When you’re in a crowd of tens of thousands and someone in your group has a crush on some Handsome Cowboy or other who may be there somewhere, Merlefest is one big game of “Where’s Waldo?” It’s a game of “Awkward High School Cafeteria Encounters” if someone is avoiding, say, an ex boyfriend who may or may not be in attendance. It’s a game of “Take a Picture with Shirtless Fifty-Year-Old Kilt Guy Tossing Devil Sticks in the Background” if you are looking for a real challenge. (We failed that one. Next year for sure.) If you are a good dancer, JULIA, then you will not be able to shake the throngs of retirees who will not even let you take a sip of water for all the hovering and jockeying for position in the dance tent. It’s great fun for those of us watching it happen. At any rate, Merlefest is big enough to keep things interesting, and small enough to make things fun. You may run into last year’s people, and you’ll probably come away with some new people, and it’s perfect that way.
The rain charged in last night, in spotty showers, but nobody minded. We’d seen all of our must-sees earlier in the afternoon, and nobody was disappointed. Today was a different story. We woke up to a soaker. I was on the fence about hitting the road for Route 66 early, or catching a bit of the festival before I left. Sunshine would have made that decision a lot harder. I was neutral on the headliners, and the groups that I’d have stayed for are all Raleigh folk, and I’ll hope to catch them again soon. I really wanted to hear the Sunday morning bluegrass, though, and Willow and Julia and I made it over there early. Before-the-gates-opened early. We ate grits and drank mochas, sitting warm and dry in the food tent, then splashed back over to the Creekside stage for some Sunday morning gospel. I could actually have done without the devotional, not because I’m against it but because we Episcopalians just plain don’t talk like that in public. The music, however, was gorgeous. I don’t even know who all of the players were, but world-class musicians, and they brought Peter Rowan out for a couple of numbers.
Peter Rowan may be my favorite this year. He was the only album I bought last year, and he’s a handsome devil with a charming sense of humor, and a great storyteller. If I ever considered running off with an older man, I’d be tempted by that one. He took the stage to do a couple of the types of songs Doc always did during the Spirit of Sunday hour. He hadn’t conferred with the band, exactly, on what they were going to play, which was just how Doc would have wanted it. “What key? Shy of B?” called out one of the musicians. “Sounds great to me,” said Peter Rowan. “Grab a handful of ‘shy of B’ and hold on!” he said, and they were off making beautiful sounds on the fly.
I slipped away after that, because it was perfect, and I wanted to leave on a high note. I found a nice young scout at the VFW Campground to jump my car, and left the girls to wait it out in the cold rain for the Avetts. Text messaging, now that they are home in Raleigh warm and dry and I am off in Tennessee at a dog-friendly Red Roof Inn with Fletch, seems to indicate that their afternoon was everything they wanted it to be. Except for dry. Definitely not dry.
I’m hitting Nashville in the morning, y’all. Grab some “shy of B,” indeed. Can’t wait to see what Music City holds. And I can’t wait for next Merlefest.