Doc Watson at the Mahaiwe Theatre, Gt. Barrington, MA
March 30, 2002 performance; by Dave Read
Doc Watson set up shop on the stage of the Mahaiwe Theatre the night before Easter and delivered a generous dose of good music, wry humor, and tender insight to a sell-out audience. It was a bravura performance by the 79 year old Hall of Famer, memorable almost as much for his talking as for his nonpareil flat-picking and singing.
Doc Watson does more than give a performance; he becomes your companion along the way, stepping aside for a moment during a song to alert you to what’s coming up in the next verse. And although much of the between-tunes patter has been been said a thousand times, some of it comes across with a freshness and intimacy that makes you feel as if he’s sharing an insight with you for the first time. Doc’s bag tonight contained the expected range of songs from Jimmy Rodgers, Merle Haggard, Homer and Jethro, Flatt and Scruggs, et al, but he also brought along a few single doses from an unusual mix of sources: Tim Hardin, George Gershwin, and the Moody Blues.
His introduction to a fresh and heartfelt rendition of Hardin’s If I Were a Carpenter left off with the remark, “He must’ve really loved her.” Gershwin’s Summtime was given a jazzy reading and came just before Haggard’s Working Man Blues, which Doc introduced by talking about his blindness.
After averring that he had done work harder than “pickin this ole guitar,” he said that he had had “a persecution complex about my handicap for a long time,” but that he one day came to accept it – “the Lord said you need a handicap to calm you down.”
Doc’s introduction to the Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin was as sweet and poignant as “patter” gets; addressing the “young gals and young fellas” in the audience, he talked about feeling so much in love with someone “you can’t hardly breathe” and knowing circumstances will keep you apart.
Treating songs like he does, selecting ones whose meanings set them apart and taking care to see that his audience is ready to hear them, shows Doc Watson to be more than merely a guitar virtuoso. He’s a remarkable man, a pretty energetic one to boot: he played two full hour-long sets, joined for half of each set by his grandson Richard (Merle’s son) and Jack Lawrence, alternately. They each took turns on the lead in their duets with Doc, and Lawrence featured a few numbers from his own CDs.
The Beartown Mountain Ramblers warmed up the capacity audience with an entertaining sampler of traditional Bluegrass. True to the essence of the genre, their performance was marked by crisp, restrained, brief solos that blended together seamlessly. They were dressed like New England gentlemen, and somehow managed to project a feeling that a bit of slapstick was imminent.