'Just One of the People'
"Doc Watson - Just one of the people."
That's what the plaque on a bronze sculpture of the Deep Gap native will read when it is unveiled Friday, June 24, at the Doc Watson Statue Dedication on King Street in downtown Boone.
The event, presented in conjunction with the Downtown Boone Development Association, is part of the Watauga Arts Council Concert on the Lawn Series. In addition to the dedication, there will be a concert featuring David Holt, Charles Welch, Jeff Little, Wayne Henderson, Clint Howard, Herb Key and Creekside Grass.
When these performers, who Doc considers his friends, are asked about the renowned guitarist, the first words to come out of their mouths are exactly the same.
"Doc is a very humble person," said Herb Key, guitarist for the Elkville String Band. "I used to call him 'sir,' and he said, 'Son, you don't call me sir. I put my pants on the same way you do.'"
Despite attracting international attention and receiving numerous accolades throughout the decades, Watson, 88, insists he is no different from anyone else. The disclaimer on the statue plaque was inscribed upon his request.
"To most of us, he's a neighbor and a friend. That's what he wants to be known to everyone else," said Wayne Henderson, a guitarist and luthier who has worked on a number of Doc's instruments.
Watson lost his vision before his first birthday, but his family refused to let this fact keep him from living a normal life. They encouraged him to pursue music, providing him with his first instrument, a harmonica, at the age of six. At 11, he received his first banjo, and, in his teenage years, Watson began mastering the guitar.
After he married Rosa Lee Carlton in 1947, Watson took to the streets of Boone to support his family. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, he could be found regularly playing for money on King Street.
Dan Isaacs, fiddle player for Creekside Grass, remembers seeing Doc perform in front of the Ben Franklin Dime Store.
"I first saw Doc when I was a little fellow," Isaacs said. "I would stop and listen to him as long as I could. I knew then that he was destined for fame. And he made it. He was famous to me then, just by the way he played."
Watson gained traction as a professional musician during the American folk music revival in the early 1960s. In the following years, his combination of flatpicking and fingerpicking guitar styles, along with his rich baritone voice and Appalachian traditional ballads, earned him worldwide acclaim.
Watson's longtime musical collaborator, David Holt, explained how some who passed by Doc playing on King Street in the early days of his career did not yet realize his talent.
"Doc had become known in New York and California before people in the mountains fully acknowledged and embraced him," Holt said. "It shows how people need to look at what's around them."
On Friday, Watson's likeness will become a permanent fixture on King Street. The statue will serve not only as a tribute to Watson, but a reminder of what "just one of the people" may be capable of.
"This statue is a completion of the circle in a way," Holt said. "Doc started out on the street, and now he's being honored with a statue in the same place where he once played for change. It's pretty remarkable. I want to be there to see it and to honor him."
The statue is located in front of the Law Firm of di Santi, Watson, Capua & Wilson, 642 W. King St. It faces the spot across the street where Watson started his music career all those years ago.
The Doc Watson Statue Dedication is expected to attract thousands of people to downtown Boone. To facilitate the crowd, the town of Boone is shutting down King Street from Appalachian Street to Waters Street from 4 to 8 p.m. Cars parked in this area at the time of the street closure cannot be moved until after the event. Attendees are advised to arrive early.
For those who want to take a piece of the event home with them, commemorative T-shirts will be available for $15.
The free concert event will take place on the lawn of the Jones House Community Center, located at 604 W. King St. Music will begin at 4:30 p.m. with Creekside Grass. Clint Howard, Wayne Henderson, Jeff Little and Herb Key will perform at 5 p.m. There will be a break in the music at 5:30 p.m. for the statue dedication ceremony. The final scheduled performance at 5:50 p.m. features David Holt, Charles Welch and Jeff Little.
Watson will be present at the event and may even perform.
"I expect that a lot of people and musicians that love Doc will be there," said John Cooper, the DBDA project administrator for the statue. "If they're not there, they're going to wish they had been."
For more information, visit Boone-NC.org or JonesHouseCommunityCenter.org.