- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 4, 2007

Even legends have senior moments. Perhaps guitarist Arthel “Doc” Watson was pushing the envelope a bit at Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria on Friday when he surprised the capacity crowd by flubbing the lyrics to the second verse of his version of the 1967 Moody Blues classic “Knights in White Satin.”

He completed the song without missing a beat and, to cheers, he quietly said he had an excuse: “I’ll turn 84 on March 3.”

Other material Mr. Watson performed predated the rock ballad by a decade or more. Accompanied all evening by T. Michael Coleman on bass, Mr. Watson blazed through 18 songs in an hour and 21 minutes. He took turns playing with his grandson, Richard Watson, on guitar, and 20-year guitar partner Jack Lawrence. Selections ranged through bluegrass standards “Shady Grove” and “Greenville Trestle,” the circa 1880 gospel song “Unclouded Day,” Mississippi John Hurt’s classic “Got the Blues (Can’t Be Satisfied),” Merle Haggard’s “Workingman’s Blues,” folk standard “A-Roving on a Winter Night” and a medley of rockabilly songs: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Tutti Frutti” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

A consummate entertainer who lost his sight during infancy in Deep Gap, N.C., Mr. Watson has been dazzling audiences worldwide since the early 1960s. He has received seven Grammy awards including lifetime achievement distinction in 2004, and never fails to win over the crowd with his amazing guitar talent, crystalline baritone and down-home charm.

Part of the package is the delightful folk humor he gets across in such country blues songs as the “Don’t You Monkey with My Widow When I’m Gone.” He pronounces the word “widder,” and promises in the refrain, “I’m gonna ha’nt you boys.” Another example is “Give Me Back My 15 Cents,” where Mr. Watson sings of the protagonist’s regret at leaving home in Tennessee, marrying and then having to live with his mother-in-law on an Arkansas farm. The 15 cents refers to the marriage fee paid to the preacher.

But the biggest crowd pleasers were Mr. Watson’s signature ragtime instrumentals and the note-for-note dual leads he and Mr. Lawrence coaxed from their acoustic guitars in such tunes as Grandpa Jones’ “Eight More Miles to Louisville.” The trio also combined for sweet vocal harmonies on “Cora is Gone,” a Flatt and Scruggs standard.

Opening for Mr. Watson were old-time musicians Dirk Powell and Riley Baugus who performed six songs in a 37-minute set, telling at least one entertaining story per song. Selections included “The Cuckoo,” a traditional song the two recorded together for the soundtrack of the 2003 film “Cold Mountain.” Later, Mr. Powell picked up a fretless banjo, carved by hand by his cousin in rural southwestern Virginia, and played “Reuben” as a solo instrumental. The two combined again with the murder ballad, “Pretty Polly,” with Mr. Powell on a borrowed banjo and Mr. Baugus on a parlor-style guitar.

Mr. Baugus sang the traditional “Sweet Sunny South” and closed the set with the haunting a cappella lament, “The Wandering Boy.”

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