Show Report: Mountain Stage ft. Doc Watson, David Holt, Justin Townes Earle, Bob Livingston, and others

A show report the night after the show! That’s got to be some kind of record here, but I wanted to do it while it was fresh in my head. Obviously the main attraction was Doc Watson….and man….he alone was completely worth the 30 bucks and 4-hrs of total drive time.

Now I have been contemplating driving up to catch a Mt. Stage taping for a while now, and when I saw the one with Doc Watson in Bristol I knew that was the one. Luckily for me I live 2hrs from both Bristol and Charleston, WV (Mt. Stage’s normal  venue home) so it was not a problem to drive down to Bristol instead up up to Charleston. Actually it was better, because I hate those damned overpriced tolls on the WV Turnpike!

So on to the show, I have never been to a live taping of anything before so that was interesting. They had the little “On Air” and “Applause” signs out. The house band came out and did the theme song while one of the announcers read the advertisements and the performers in radio voice, and then the other announcer came out and introduced the first act. David Holt. Now I was only familiar with David Holt from the Doc Watson Legacy box (which is INCREDIBLE, and I will assume you all already have this in your collection), but his set was pretty incredible. A pure entertainer, one of the highlights of the entire night (that wasn’t Doc Watson) was when he strapped on a washboard and just went nuts on it. He told some great stories, especially the one about letting the Rock Island Line drive over his face as a kid in Garland, TX (followed by a killer blues reworking of Rock Island Line). The guy is just an encyclopedia of mountain and old time music and a major talent.

After David Holt was John Doyle who was from Ireland and played Irish folk music. He was a really fantastic guitar player, and the first song he played about his great-grandfather on a ship that was torpedoed during WWI en route to the US was a highlight of his set. After John Doyle was Bob Livingston. Now I was familiar with Bob Livingston in name only as he was one of the forerunners of progressive country in Texas in the 70’s and recorded with Ray Wylie Hubbard back then, and more importantly and famously with Jerry Jeff Walker. You know the Lost Gonzo Band that backed Jerry Jeff on his famous Viva Terlingua album…that was Bob Livingston’s band. He came out in a golden yellow suite and I would like to think he rode up to the venue in a white Cadillac with longhorns on the front! I was pretty impressed with his set and look forward to checking out some of his other stuff. He finished his set by doing a little texas swing song called “Public Domain” that got the crowd really worked up.

After Bob Livingston was Justin Townes Earle. This being the first time seeing him, I was really looking forward to it. He came out with a fiddler and girl on the doghouse bass. He played a couple new songs from his upcoming album Harlem River Blues, and a couple old favorites. Highlights of his set were the rousing rendition of Halfway To Jackson, and then his solo performance of the new song “Slippin’ and Slidin’”. Which he said was about “Knowing your limits, but just not caring”. Really great song and I look forward to the new album which comes out the 14th of next month.

Next up was Laura Bessinger who led the crowd in some old folk songs and specifically some old Carter Family songs in commemoration of the recording in Bristol. The Paramount Theater, where the show was being recorded is located right on State St. in Bristol, barely a block from where the famous Bristol Sessions took place back in 1927. She got the crowd ready for the main act, and the highlight of the entire event….DOC WATSON.

Doc was lead out to the stage and he looked old and feeble. He is 87 after all. He sat in his chair and David Holt sat beside him and handed him Donald (that’s the name of Doc’s guitar). They started in with Way Downtown. First thing I noticed was his voice sounded…well…old. But his playing….dear lord that magical playing of his, was as fresh as the sunrise. After that they played Shady Grove with Doc telling the story of how he met his wife (of 66 years now) and she would ask him to play the song every time before he left. Next he played an old fiddle tune (which I KNOW but for the life of me I can’t remember the name of…surely it will come to me in a week or so) and by this time he was fully warmed up and no longer had the feeble timber in his voice. He even commented “I don’t feel 87 when I play these good ol’ songs”.

Doc played for about an hour, with every song being amazing. One of my favorites of the night was the bluesy reworking of “Train That Carried My Girl From Town” with David Holt playing slide on a metal resonator. I alluded to the Legacy box set earlier, and that is really what this reminded me of, with Doc telling stories and explaining how he came to play certain songs, and even telling a couple jokes. At one point while trying to figure out which mic was causing harmonica feedback, he said “I’m no stage actor, I don’t rehearse all my onstage foolishness”. This was just a phenomenal performance and if Doc is ever performing within 200 miles of you…GO! He is truly a living legend.

Here is what a real writer had to say about this show

The show will air sometime in October on your local NPR station. When it gets posted online, I will post a link to it.

  • Aimz

    August 16th, 2010


    Fantastic review. JTE usually does a cover of “Train That Carried My Girl From Town” during his full show. Guess he left it to the pros that night!

  • Will

    August 19th, 2010


    Another good Mountain Stage coming up in Charleston next Sunday with Scott Miller, Whitey Morgan & the 78’s, the Steel Drivers, and Gene Watson. Good call on the da** tolls. Hate payin’ 12 bucks just for the privilege of driving the turnpike to Charleston.

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