'Ready for the Times'
Just in time for MerleFest, Bryan Sutton, David Holt and T. Michael Coleman have released a new Doc Watson-inspired album, called “Ready for the Times.”
Each an acclaimed musician in his own right, what these three artists have in common is they were inspired by and played alongside Watson on numerous occasions.
Holt recorded an album with Watson, called “Legacy,” which won a Grammy Award in 2002.
Coleman was a member of Merle Watson’s band, Frosty Morn. Merle was Doc’s son, who died in the mid-1980s, hence the name, MerleFest. Coleman was also in the band when Doc and Merle played together, and he has played onstage with Watson many times at the festival over the last two decades.
North Carolina native Sutton was heavily influenced by Watson’s style of playing guitar. In 2006, Sutton and Watson won a Grammy Award for their guitar duet of the classic fiddle tune, “Whiskey Before Breakfast.”
On “Ready for the Times,” the trio rips into songs and tunes, including “Johnson Gals,” “Hangman’s Reel,” “15 Cents,” “Darlin’ Cory” and “Train That Carried My Girl from Town.” Holt also wrote an original song with Danny Ellis, called “Hotel Room,” which is about traveling with Watson one year and hearing him practice guitar early in the morning in the next room. The guest musicians on that track include Sam Bush, Jens Kruger and Claire Lynch.
What is great about this tribute album to Watson is that it is not a melancholy trip down memory lane. Instead, the trio focuses on recreating the inspiration that Watson instilled in them. The music is relentlessly upbeat and Appalachian rocking.
Sutton explained the approach taken on this project.
“The thing about Doc, we all grew up being influenced by a lot of the same musicians, listening to Western North Carolina music,” Sutton said.
“It’s not really bluegrass. It’s not the old-time music that you hear today. It’s got its own, very real spirit about it. And that is what we tried to accomplish, more than anything. That is basically what Doc did, as well, sort of bring all of his influences into his sound. We’re all influenced by him, but we’re also influenced by that whole area of music and culture. There is a definite spirit and sound about it that I’ve always recognized by growing up there. It is a special kind of way to do music.”
Sutton, Holt and Coleman will perform at MerleFest Saturday, April 27, at 1:30 p.m. on the Americana Stage. More information can be found at http://www.merlefest.org. This will be the first MerleFest following the death of Watson last year.
“The way I feel now is that even though Doc is gone physically, his influence is so strong that you have to recognize that it is still there in some way,” Sutton said.
“This MerleFest will be strange, to not see him there. He was such a fixture there, and he was always playing a lot. For me, it was always the Sunday morning set with the Nashville Bluegrass Band that I enjoyed watching. A lot of people will be processing that scene of MerleFest without Doc. MerleFest has always been about Doc, and suddenly he’s not there. So, it is like when your grandfather dies, and it is that first Christmas with him not around. You’re sort of hit all over again when somebody that important is not around for something that important. A festival like that without Doc will be weird. But I’m sure it will be a good one.”
MerleFest runs April 25 to 28 on the campus of Wilkes Community College in Wilkesboro. For tickets and more information, visit http://www.merlefest.org.