I lived in the country for the first nine years of my life. It was not a farm, but we had a cow and chickens and a huge vegetable garden. Summer days were spent working and playing outside all day. We made playhouses in the woods, carpeting the rooms with moss we gathered. We made buildings from empty cardboard boxes. We built a cemetery and looked for little dead things to bury there. We made elaborate little coffins from matchboxes and conducted funerals with great ceremony. Winter days were spent attending a small rural public school.
My father was a carpenter and also manager of a North Carolina State Fish Hatchery. The students at the small school we attended were pretty much all alike. There were no rich kids and few children of professionals. (Those students went to the "better" school in town.) Our little school was for the "country folks." I thought everyone was just like me.
When I was ten, we moved to Boone, North Carolina. At that time Boone was a sleepy little college town. We no longer lived in the country with a garden, cow, and chickens, but lived in town. Many of my classmates in school were children of college professors, dentists, physicians and other professionals. As I struggled to fit into this new society, I learned that most of my new classmates thought "country music" was somehow not "cool." Country music was the object of jokes. So, at the tender age of ten, I learned to present a different view of myself in order to fit into current society. I pretended I didn't like country music either.
In truth, I adored country music. Late at night my radio would pick up stations far away and I would listen until I fell asleep. (WCKY...Cincinnati ONE, Ohio was one of my favorites.) I loved watching the country music shows on television.
My mother also loved country music. Not as much as she loved the old hymns, but enough. She had a woman (I'll call her Janie) who helped Mom with heavy housecleaning. Janie and Mom became good friends. Almost every week during the summer, Mom and I would drive out to Janie's house in the country and visit in the evening. Janie played the guitar and on most of our visits, her front porch would be filled with neighbors who played instruments. They played and sang country music and folk music and bluegrass for hours on end.
Oh, how I loved those evenings. The music made it worth every mosquito bite I scratched later. One musician fascinated me. He was blind and I loved his music. He wasn't always at the gatherings, but when he was, I sat and watched him all evening.
Never in my wildest imagination would I have guessed that this blind musician would become a legend in my own lifetime. Yes, the blind musician is Doc Watson. And as a child I heard him play with Janie and the others on the porch.
So many years have past. And here in Brevard, the star attraction at the Mountain Song Festival is none other than Doc Watson. A winner of seven Grammy awards, and awarded the National Medal of Arts by President Bill Clinton, Doc Watson still performs, although much less often than in the past. The Mountain Song Festival was held this past weekend and Steve Martin (yes, THAT Steve Martin) made a surprise appearance, playing the banjo with the Steep Canyon Rangers. But the person everyone talked about was Doc Watson.
(Courtesy photograph from The Transylvania Times.)
Doc Watson does not know my name. He does not know how much his music means to me. I'm certain he remembers the evening songfests at Janie's house. And maybe he even remembers a little girl who so enthusiastically sang along and clapped to his music on Janie's porch all those years ago. You just never know...