In less than two weeks I'll be headed down to North Carolina for the Merlefest, a big daddy in the world of music festivals, and a highlight of mine every year since 1995.
Merlefest is very special to me for a few reasons, none of them more important than the fact that I had befriended Merle Watson back in 1983, when we met during the Mole Lake Bluegrass Festival. We had similar thoughts on home and family and being dedicated to and loving the part of the world we lived in. He was building his homestead in the mountains in North Carolina, and I was in the process of building mine in the great northwoods of Wisconsin. We made plans to visit each other's part of the world, and his chance was supposed to come far before mine!
At that point Merle had already hired Jack Lawrence to go out on the road with Doc and T. Michael....he was tired of the road and didn't care if he never saw the inside of a Holiday Inn again. He was planning on only playing a couple of festivals every year; Telluride and Mole Lake.
So--seeing as how I drove past the Rhinelander Holiday Inn every day on my way to Mole Lake, it was an easy call to offer Merle and Doc my spare cabin! (I had visions of the two of them pickin' on my screen porch, I can tell ya'...>g<) We exchanged addresses and phone numbers and made tentative plans....of which of course tragically were never pulled off. Doc and Merle played the Newport Folk Festival instead of Mole Lake in 1984, and Merle had his accident in 1985; so he didn't make it back to Mole Lake.
And an interesting end to our visit Merle and I had; he was on one side of the fence and I the other, near the backstage entrance. During our couple of hour conversation, there had been a fleet of trucks and buses pull into the backstage area....Charlie Daniels had arrived. There were probably 6 huge vehicles in the fleet, for Charlie apparently traveled in style. At one point Merle mentioned that he should get goin', that "the old man" would want to go back to the Holiday Inn....
We said our goodbyes and Merle headed to the door, when he was stopped by a woman who told him that no one could enter the backstage area while Charlie Daniels was there, on his orders. Merle kind of shrugged, turned and smiled kind of quizzically at me, and brushed on by her. (this smallish Indian woman was not much of a match for a big mountain man...) He again ran into resistence at the door itself, and I'm not sure how many folks that he had to brush aside before he got to Doc, but he did prevail...>g<
As promised, Merle drove Doc over to a gate so I'd have a chance to meet him as well. Doc was very gracious, but you could kind of tell that he might be in a bad mood....he was even thinking of not coming back for the next day's gig. But at some point Charlie apologized and Doc came back and we all were better off 'cause of THAT!!
Anyhoo...as Merle and I were saying our final goodbyes he whispered to me: "that fat little "farmer" can't even fiddle....!" ("farmer" being close enough for this description...>g<)
My next entry will of course have to be the second part of my Merlefest musings; musings about the start of my business at this wonderful festival.