Müsic to Their Ears
As Doc Watson advanced in age, among the musicians he requested
to be at his funeral were The Krüger Brothers, Wayne Henderson and Charles Welch.
Last year, a few months after Watson died, Jens and Uwe Krüger, Henderson and Welch came together to remember the High Country music legend with a concert in Todd. The event went over so well that it will happen again this Saturday, Aug. 24, at Cook Park in the Todd Rural Historic District.
The concert will take place from 4 to 7 p.m.
Uwe and Jens Krüger came from their native Switzerland to perform at MerleFest in 1997, along with their third “brother,” bassist Joel Landsberg, a New York City native with an extensive musical background, who joined the group in the early 1990s.
After MerleFest, The Krüger Brothers moved to North Carolina and eventually became great friends with Watson and his family.
“Brenda Shepherd, who we stayed with at the time, she was in charge of the whole MerleFest infrastructure; she was good friends with Doc, and she took us to his dressing room behind the main stage, and that is how we first met him,” guitarist Uwe Krüger said.
“Then, in the fall, Doc came down to the Shepherds’ house and we jammed together the whole day, all afternoon and into the evening before they drove him back up to his house. That’s how we really started having fun. Then, we started playing around here, and Charles Welch would take Doc to our shows. I remember one day, we were playing up at Greenfields Restaurant in West Jefferson, and I was playing ‘Black Mountain Rag,’ and in walks Doc Watson, (who) sits right in front of me (laughing). It was scary stuff. But, he really liked it and was slapping his legs and clapping along, and then he joined us for the rest of the show.”
When visiting Watson, the experience was often more than just about music for The Krüger Brothers.
“When you played with Doc and you’re sitting there, watching him do things, you always learned something,” Uwe Krüger said. “The most important thing I learned about Doc Watson’s music was that the reason it was good music was because he was a good man. I realized that if I want to play good music, I have to be a good man. He really made me work on my personal skills. There was not a difference between him in private and him onstage. Nothing. So, that’s what we tried to achieve, as well.”
In Watson’s later years, he pretty much stuck to playing the guitar, even though he was a prolific banjo player from an early age. Jens Krüger, who plays banjo, was lucky enough to see and hear Watson play the instrument behind the scenes.
“Doc Watson was a great clawhammer banjo player, and he had a unique style with hammer-ons and pull-offs and other little left-hand techniques that was so intricate and fantastic,” Jens Krüger said. “Every time I would get together with Doc Watson, I’d learn something. He would always take my banjo and play it a little bit backstage. Then, when we were at his home, he would always go down to the basement and get his son, Merle’s, banjo or his old banjo. He played fantastic old-time-style banjo and would do things that I heard nobody else do. So, he was a great inspiration to me.”
The Krüger Brothers appreciate the time spent with older legends like Watson, including many influential artists that have left this world over the last couple of years.
“Life goes by, actually, fairly quickly,” Jens Krüger said, “and you lose a lot of friends. At one point, you just hope that you can be an inspiration to younger folks like these people were to you. That would be beautiful, if that could be the way. I’m very thankful for the inspiration that these people gave me, and I hope I can do that for somebody else.”
At Saturday’s concert, The Krüger Brothers will be joined by Welch, a longtime friend of Watson’s, and celebrated luthier and guitarist Wayne Henderson.
The concert will be held rain or shine, and guests are encouraged to bring a blanket or lawn chairs for outdoor seating. A concession stand will offer hot dogs, hamburgers and cold drinks.
Advance tickets cost $15 and are available online at http://www.ToddNC.org. Day-of tickets cost $18 at the gate. Children 12 and younger will be admitted free. The concert is also dog-friendly, provided the pets are well-behaved.
Cook Park is situated just off Railroad Grade Road, directly across from the Todd General Store, which is located at 3866 Railroad Grade Road.
Free parking is limited, but several pay lots are available, as well as a free shuttle service from a satellite parking area at the corner of N.C. 194 and Todd Railroad Grade Road behind Todd Fire & Rescue.
The concert is produced by the Todd Community Preservation Organization, a nonprofit organization that has been hosting free summer park concerts for more than a decade. According to organizers, proceeds from the event will go toward funding future music events.