Monday, September 20, 2004 ... 5:21 PM

Chance encounter

Wind and rainy scraps of Ivan forced Friday's outdoor show under a canvas tent, to Gillian's dismay. The precipitation was light to hazy through most of the day as my daisy Betsy and I made our way up the Virginia hills from Carolina, but it started pouring between Old Crow Medicine Show's set and Gil & Dave's set. Onstage, Gil made repeated wearied references to the weather. Even when it wasn't raining, the night was muggy and hot and the skeeters were biting. Before I was even out of the car, I had bites on my left thumb and on my forehead.

Old Crow were cheerful, though, with Dave Rawlings (or Butch Hobson, if you insist) at stage left, frailing on a resonator banjo, fretting his signature archtop Epiphone, and picking a squareneck maple Dobro. I don't know where the guy went who filled this position at Newport, but he wasn't there. Critter Fuqua was, though.

Critter was a founding member of Old Crow, the banjo and National guitar picker whom Dave Rawlings and that guy at Newport are filling in for, indefinitely apparently, and without official explanation.

Toward the end of Old Crow's set I made my way to the toilet cabins, and sitting on a log in the shadows at a bend in the dirt path leading from the tent were Gillian and Critter themselves. Critter was wearing that cap he wears on the O.C.M.S. CD sleeve. Gillian was dressed up in her stage outfit: black dress and black velvet jacket, black tights and black cowgirl boots, her graying ruddy hair pulled back tight and her face made up a moony white. They sat chatting quietly -- two people apart trying to have a fucking conversation thank you very much. So I interrupted them. But only to make Gillian aware, urgently, that that I didn't have anything much to say to her.

I thanked her around 10 times for playing in Virginia again. She shook my hand in the dark. Her hand was long and soft and slightly limp, like a rolled up pita. I said I'd seen her last month at Wolf Trap. She said, "Oh, with Emmy?" I said yes. She said, "Yeah, that was a fun show." I stood there over her for a moment and nodded. She asked where I was from. I said Virginia, up the nothern part of the state. I said I used to live in Nashville, though, and I'd seen her at the Station Inn last year, and at the Belcourt a few times, and that I'd met her and Dave at Tower Records on West End in Nashville last year as well. "Oh, yeah," she said. She didn't know what to say to me. I didn't give her much to work with.

Critter sat watching quietly for a moment and then excused himself. I wish I'd said Hey to him as well, and then left them both alone, or at least thought to mention to Gillian, since I had already imposed, that she is a great hero of mine, the most often heard voice on my stereo speakers, that she sits in the highest seat of my suburban twang pantheon, or that her music has shone light that has led me through a couple of dim times, that her music has taught me things about the world, and about myself, or at the very least that her lyrics like no one else's have opened my eyes and my ears and my mind and my heart to the endless reaches and depths of American song and spurred me to go diving and nosing and groping around, however blindly, in our history. Instead I told her again that I appreciated it that she was playing in Virginia again, as if Virginia were a leper colony.

After around 90 seconds of watching me starstruck as a bobbysoxer stammer and sweat, Gillian Welch rose to her feet and peered over my shoulder at the tent where Old Crow were wrapping up. She said, "Well this is their last tune. I'd better go get ready to do my thing," and then slipped off into the trees.



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Making Notes: Music of the Carolinas
(Novello Festival Press, April 2008)
includes my essay, "Link Wray"


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