It’s like loosing Mark Twain is how I try to explain it to the uninformed. It’s like loosing a family member is how I express it to all of you. I am in mourning.
I was a lucky little kid taking guitar lessons from David Stark who along with an older brother turned me onto Doc Watson in 1973/1974. I was even luckier to see him for the first time at the Main Point that winter. I remember standing on ice covered sidewalks and sitting in a lovely little coffee house that held a hundred people tops. We slid into our seats and Merle lead Doc in by the arm. It was biblical and I hung on every note. I also got to see him play in a ridiculous little sea side bar in NJ with maybe twenty people in the mid eighties. I was soooo excited to be so close and have a beer as he, Merle, and Michael did a full show. It was stunning to me that the place wasn’t packed but the 1980’s were a silly musical decade not with out its virtues and haircuts.
However, my fondest recollection took all of three minutes as I crossed behind the stage at the Culppeper Festival (1986) on the way to the port a john – and there he was behind a little riser waiting by the steps all by himself tuning up. No handler no one hovering just me and a friend walking by on gravel. He certainly heard us going by (that’s horse footing gravel that aint train) and I waited until he tuned the string he was working on then without breaking stride spoke the unplanned words of “God Bless You Doc” came tumbling out of my mouth.
I was humbled by his single solitary presence, blind, but standing tall, calm but getting ready to play, alone but hundreds waiting for him. Two more steps by me and I received the most surprising, unexpected response spoken clear as a bell in that voice that is uniquely his “thank you – god bless you.” I could write for pages and not get close to what came across in those few moments but I’ll try.I will never forget the time of day, the bright afternoon sunlight, the sound of his voice, he had a vest on, the big huge horse farm we were on – neither of us stopping what we were doing – his solitary appearance – how startled I was to just see him appear and how I reeled in every urge to stop and stare, hover, speak, exclaim, trumpet and noticed he was tuning and let the man be knowing how much trouble that B string gives me.It was startling that no one and I mean no one was around. I think he knew I waited to say something until he was finished tuning – and respected that and that we didn’t break stride or invade his personal space. We both heard in the timber of each others voice respect and I didn’t feel the need for anything else. Amazed that I was good to go so to speak I didn’t need to press for details. What more could we say to each other? What was going to top that and really mean anything? How can someone one amaze you in such a short second – its not what you say but how you say it – It was a moment for me and one that will live on forever. It’s as clear as the crescent moon and solitary planet that hung over the Blue Ridge as we left the festival the following fall night.
What a spectacular time it was with John Hartford, New Grass Revival, Arlo Guthrie and The Seldom Scene. I did to Sam Bush what I didn’t do to Doc – LOL. John Hartford was a sweetheart.
But I tell you I have always felt honored to have exchanged those few personal moments and words with Doc. His musical journey is second to none and to have him be a part of my musical journey well it’s the bedrock, the foundation, the essence of this land, gods land, the blue ridge, the great spirit, the good lord, the tree of life manifested, the well, the source, and Doc the hard working linchpin audible and personified with precision and joy, wisdom and heart, human and channeling through that man the spirit and his spirit nourishing our souls. The Blue Ridge remains and so will his music. We say goodbye for now and god bless you Doc Watson for he most surly did. What an honor to be alive during your time!