Concert Review: Doc Watson at the Birchmere
If we’re lucky, we’ll be as hale and hearty at age 88 as Doc Watson is. Joined by longtime partners bassist T. Michael Coleman and David Holt on guitar and banjo, Watson captivated a worshipful, near-capacity Birchmere crowd for two hours on Sunday night with only a 15 minute intermission.
His voice was still strong as he played two dozen songs, alternating between flatpicking and fingerpicking his guitar, and at one point pulling out a harmonica for “Fisher’s Hornpipe,” an instrumental on which he was joined by Holt on bones.
Standards like “In the Pines” and “Little Sadie” and versions of songs from the Carter Family and Mississippi John Hurt made up the bulk of the set list, but Watson also pulled out a few surprises, with a countrified version of “The 12th of Never,” which was recorded by Johnny Mathis. He also delivered a stellar take on Merle Haggard’s “Working Man Blues,” a song which led Watson to exclaim “I wish I could have picked it on his record.”
Over the course of the evening, Holt was equal parts musician and interview moderator, as he prompted Watson with questions about the music he grew up with and the time he spent as a young man playing fiddle tunes on a Les Paul in a local square dance band. This was a treat for the audience as Watson reminisced about the musicians he’d met over the years, like when he learned “Freight Train” from Elizabeth Cotten at a show the two played in DC (at “the place with all the records,” most likely the Smithsonian Folkways archives) over forty years ago. Over the course of the evening, Watson also shared memories of Wade Mainer and, of course, his late son Merle Watson.
Midway through the show, Watson remarked that his “old hands could see pretty good.” He was talking about the hard work and carpentry he’s done over the years (rest assured, he stays away from table saws), but as anyone who’s seen his fingers fly up and down the fretboard knows, those hands were meant for the guitar.
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