Driving from Folsom to Davis isn’t our idea of fun, but when it is for a concert at the Mondavi Center, we would do it any time, and for bluegrass lovers, this time especially so.
The American Heritage Series, part of the Mondavi Center’s 2007-2008 season opened on Saturday evening with Doc Watson, David Holt, and Doc’s grandson, Richard Watson. The American Heritage Series explores the best of American “roots” music and this concert certainly fits the description of “roots” and “best.”
Billed as a “living legend,” Doc Watson is a six-time Grammy winner and a member of the Bluegrass Hall of Honor, easily living up to the living legend status on Saturday. Doc told us he’s a hillbilly and we think there were close to 2,000 more hillbillys in the audience.
The concert is a mixture of story and music, with photographs shown on a big screen, chronicling Doc’s life. The first photos were of Doc and his wife Rosa Lee, as newlyweds, and then pianist Jack Williams with whom Doc worked in a country dance band, playing an electric Gibson Les Paul guitar.
Doc Watson and David Holt commenced the musical performance with the very first country cong ever recorded, by “Fiddlin’ John” Carson, “Little Old Log Cabin in the Lane.”
Next up was a photo of Etta Baker and Doc told us about Etta and the Piedmont Blues style she played. Doc kept us amused, telling stories all through the concert, including one about pulling his blind seven year old sister up into a cherry tree on a rope, so she could eat the cherries and hear the rustling leaves.
Doc and David Holt then played “Steel Guitar Blues.” David once said the slide guitar saved his life. After his ten year old daughter, Sara Jane, was killed in a car accident, a friend gave him an old National guitar. He broke off the neck of a wine bottle and started experimenting with slide. The aching, liquid, bluesy notes that came out eased his pain. Doc had also lost his son Merle, killed in a tractor accident at the age of 36. So together they played and we all loved it.
Later in the evening, Doc’s grandson Richard came out with his grandfather and we heard “Walk on,” the audience participating in the chorus. Other songs included “The Telephone Girl,” “Ready for the times to get better,” “Freight Train,” “Frankie and Johnny,” “Summertime,” “The cat came back,” and “Stand by me.”
All in all, a great night of entertainment, a concert to remember and at least two new converts who will be out buying Doc Watson and David Holt music – and raving about the concert for a long time to come.