Goodness gracious, it’s good.
This Merlefest compilation from 2002, which I picked up at a record store in Charleston, South Carolina seven years ago when I didn’t have a lot of cash to spend on music, and which I’ve been listening to over and over this week, has a lot of Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs on it. Sometimes they talk to each other, between songs.
And while I am sitting here getting emotional about it in public, might as well explain why: this compilation demonstrates the ethos of Watson and Scruggs better than any single record I’ve ever seen (though there may well be others). Play good music, any time, anywhere, with anybody, without regard for artificial borders suggested by genre.
Those artificial borders are an invention of institutions that have an interest in being able to pigeonhole people to keep them giving out money and to keep them “in their place.” These artificial borders try to lock us in to our positions — race, class, gender, age, region — and by doing so, lock us up.
Music ought to be a thing that lets us stretch, that starts conversations, that builds relationships. Performance is a place where that can happen. And every performance is a statement. Merlefest is not a bluegrass festival; Merlefest is a music festival.
On this album, Wylie Gustafson says he’s never traveled so far but felt just like he was at home; Doc Watson says, “That’s what Merlefest is about, my friend.”
Watson and Scruggs led by example. They’re not the only ones. But they were early ones, and they did it well. We owe them a lot. So much that I’m getting emotional about it in this Starbucks.