*** Published in Bristol Herald Courier on Monday, Aug. 16. ***
BRISTOL, TN -- Bristol opened wide its gates of welcome for a living legend Sunday night.
And made way for Arthel Lane Watson.
Call him Doc.
The 87-year-old master of music headlined the "Mountain Stage" public broadcasting radio show at a sold-out Paramount Center for the Arts. Presented by the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, Watson led a lineup that included David Holt, Justin Townes Earle, John Doyle, Bob Livingston, and Laura Boosinger with Josh Goforth.
Those who turned out were in for a rare treat. Old folks mingled with young in what seemed a collective smile and expectant hubbub minutes to moments before the show's start.
Variety bounded from the storied Paramount stage on this memorable night.
Take David Holt.
"We like to feature some of our roots and branches of country music," said "Mountain Stage" host Larry Groce as he introduced Holt.
Holt walked on stage a few minutes past 7, guitar in hand and white fedora on his head and opened with a rousing "Daybreak in Dixie." Enormous applause followed. Holt gathered steam with "Strange Woman Blues" and a syncopated rhythm rocking song adapted from Leadbelly's "Rock Island Line."
Meanwhile backstage, Watson, who lost his sight before the age of 1, received shakes of hands and smiles from faces that he could not see and yet he returned all as if he personally knew each person. That's Doc Watson. Neighborly.
"I think "Mountain Stage" is a great thing," Watson said while seated in his dressing room as his hands fidgeted with his brown pant legs.
His Gallagher guitar lay across a seat nearby.
"I am myself on stage," Watson said while John Doyle offered some Irish music on stage. "I don't rehearse a show."
Watson spoke with a warm North Carolina country accent, though he's traveled the world, performed for presidents and royalty.
I'm certainly a country boy," Watson said, leaning closer. "I'm not any better than you or anybody. I'm me."
Holt then joined Watson to go over songs they would play when it came time for Watson to close the show.
"Let's do Jimmie Rodgers' "T for Texas,"" Watson said to Holt.
So they did. Away from the crowd and in a dressing room with a star and Doc Watson written on the door, Watson and Holt rolled mightily through "T for Texas."
"With the yodel," Watson added.
Several musicians gathered around his door. Bob Livingston, about to go on stage, stopped, looked and listened in awe.
"Being from Texas and hearing Jimmie Rodgers' songs from Doc Watson, it brings it all together for me," Livingston said while Watson tore it up. Livingston paused and grinned. "And I'm getting paid to do this."
So Watson continued. His foot tapped time as he played and sang a rip-snorting "Nine Pound Hammer" followed by the goosebump gospel standard "I Am A Pilgrim." Watson sang as if to thousands, but only a few could hear.
Back on stage, the show marched by. Livingston ambled to his microphone, tuned his guitar and opened with "Original Spirit." He sang with Texas heart while squeezing soul from the song.
Meanwhile Watson played on. The American original sat hunkered over his guitar in the dressing room and seemed to move the mountains with Kris Kristofferson's "For the Good Times."
Good times indeed.
Missed the show? Doc Watson returns to the region Sept. 4 to headline "Song of the Mountains" at the Lincoln Theatre in Marion, Va.