You can't say I lack ambition. One week in the States, and I've already made my festival debut, playing on the Cabin Stage at Merlefest. Sure, there were another 79 folk on the stage with me, and I was nowhere near a microphone, and the crowd was made up a few brave folk in anoraks who were determined to get the most of their day tickets, but you know what? IT STILL COUNTS.
I’ve been to a decent amount of festivals now, but I’ve never been to one that’s quite so gloriously wholesome as Merlefest – a place where the kids who are throwing a ball to each other pause as you pass, to make sure they don’t hit you, or where people leave each other courteous little notes in the restroom instead of just stealing the wallet you left there.
I guess that’s partly the event’s history – it was founded by Doc Watson in memory of his son Merle, who died in a tractor accident – and it’s got that family vibe. And that’s maintained by the fact that you can neither nor bring nor buy alcohol on the grounds, which not only keeps the whole thing pretty clean-living, but probably puts off anyone who’s not really here for the music.
Talking of clean living, I met the Avett Brothers this morning on their tour bus. They opened the festival last night, and drew a big night crowd in spite of the persistent rain. Seth shared his memories of meeting Doc Watson when he was 14 years old (he even remembered the system Doc had for folding his bills in his wallet) and Scott, who looked like he might have the same cold as me, told me about learning to can vegetables, and the songs they used to have on their 8-track – Three Dog Night, Neil Young, John Denver, Bob Dylan and some songs by their Dad's band, Common Decency. I’ll share some more of that interview at a later time. While you're waiting, here's the stupid face I pulled when I took a pic with Pete and Joan Wernick:
One thing that’s amazed me is that even though there are around 20,000 people on site, I keep bumping into people I know. Yes people: I’ve been here a WEEK, and I already have friends! Or at least, people who will acknowledge me when they see me and stop for a chat. I’m counting that as friendship.
I also met Bruce. He won $200 at a harmonica competition last year, he lives on the road, going from festival to festival, and he played me some spoons. He was great to talk to, even if he was insistent that I’d be speaking German if it wasn’t for his great country.