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Elle and I went to Merlefest this weekend. For those unfamiliar, it's a music (mostly bluegrass) festival held on the grounds of Wilkes Community College. It was started by bluegrass musician Doc Watson as a way to honor the memory of his son Merle, who died in  1985.

I'd never been there before. I didn't know it was held at a community college. It's kind of cool that a community college I would otherwise have never heard of is the site of such a major music event.

Aside from the great music, one of the most noteworthy aspects is that there was such a huge crowd and everybody managed to remain civil. Even when I was in the food tent at dinner time, and there were long lines full of hungry people, there was no tension and everybody was polite to each other.

The headliners that year were Steve Martin and Elvis Costello. (Which probably explained the huge crowd). Before they played Elle and I managed to enjoy lots of different musical acts. One of the best was a performance on a hillside by a group called The Waybacks. They do at Merlefest what Phish used to do on Halloween...they have an 'album hour" where they cover all the songs on a classic album. This year it was the Abbey Road by the Beatles. I jokingly said before it started "I'll bet I can name that album in 5 notes." It's good I didn't make the bet,
because they did an extended jam before the opening bass line of "Come Together". Another nifty surprise was a guest appearance by Elvis Costello singing "She Came In Through The Bathroom Window".

I saw  my old friend Mike sitting on the hillside. I wasn't sure it was him at first, because he moved to California last year. So I stared at him for about 10 minutes before I shouted out his name. (If it wasn't Mike, it wouldn't have bothered him, I finally decided). He'd come back to NC to see some music and visit some old friends. We chatted some, and I remarked about how polite and civil the crowd was.  He said "I think one of the best decisions they made was to not allow alchohol."

That's certainly a partial explanation.

Doc Watson played that evening. He sang about his son Merle, which was quite poignant. He also received an honorary degree from Berklee college of music. I'm glad I was there to see that.

 Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers played next . Martin showed off some impressive banjo chops, and also threw in some pretty good one-liners. When he came out and saw the size of the crowd he said "Wow, I should have practiced." My favorite was "As you know, last year I walked off with the Grammy for best bluegrass album. Then I found out I'd actually won it!". He did a lot of traditional bluegrass, as well as some great novelty songs such as "Atheists Don't Have No Songs".

Elvis Costello put on a pretty decent show after Steve Martin. He opened with a lively rendition of Mystery Train, and did a lot of his own songs. I haven't followed him in a while, but I did recognize "The Angels Want To Wear My Red Shoes" and of course "Allison" from his first album. At the end of Allison he inserted the lyrics to Jim Reeve's "He'll Have To Go" , which was pretty clever. He also did covers of The Velvet Undergrounds "Femme Fatale" and the Rolling Stones "Happy."

It was a great event and a great day.
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