Thursday, May 31, 2012

RIP, Doc Watson: The face to the world of North Carolina

Obviously this isn't "new" news, but we'd be remiss if we didn't comment on the passing of music legend Doc Watson at the age of 89. The Old North State has taken a PR beating in recent weeks; it's sad that it took the death of Watson to remind us all of just how great this state really is.

Watson was never a big record-seller, making the Billboard charts only once in his career (and then no higher than No. 193, in 1975 with the album "Memories"). But he transcended mainstream popularity, earning eight Grammy Awards, including a lifetime achievement award in 2004.

Watson's influence was vast, on audiences and other musicians.

"He was a great and groundbreaking guitarist, but Doc was more than that," said Wayne Martin, executive director of the North Carolina Arts Council. "He made musical traditions of Western North Carolina and the Blue Ridge Mountains accessible to millions. His guitar was a powerful tool to get people's attention, but I don't think it was his greatest legacy."

Watson was instrumental in transforming the guitar from a background rhythm role to a lead instrument in acoustic music. Yet few players in any style came close to duplicating his flawless flatpicking style. Generations of acoustic guitarists would spend hours trying to match the grace and speed Watson combined as he played tunes such as "Black Mountain Rag" and "Billy in the Lowground."

Watson never went out of his way to call attention to himself. Barry Poss, who released 13 of Watson's albums on his Sugar Hill Records label, used to get frustrated with Watson's modesty in the recording studio.

"If there's another guitar player around, he'll almost always defer to that other player and lay back," Poss said of Watson in 2003. "He really has no interest in pretentiousness, showing off, 'Here's what I can do.' It just never happens. In the studio, it can be hard to get him to take a hot lead."

While he played all over the world, Watson still lived most of his life in the vicinity of the Deep Gap community where he was born in 1923. Blind since infancy, Watson's first childhood instrument was harmonica. His father made him a banjo at age 10, and he learned the basics of guitar from a neighbor.

Perhaps this comment says it best:

"Doc has been an influence on every player of traditional music that I know," said Joe Newberry, who works for the state arts council and plays in various ensembles. "I used to say that Doc is what North Carolina sounds like. But somebody posted on my Facebook wall, no, Doc is what America sounds like. He's been a good face to the world for North Carolina."

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Thursday, May 17, 2012

Cheerwine and Avetts join up for a great cause

Arguably two of the greatest "products" of North Carolina are Cheerwine and the Avett Brothers. Well, the two have teamed up for a good cause.

From a press release that just went out:

Cheerwine®, the legendary soft drink of the South, is joining forces with North Carolina indie-rockers the Avett Brothers to present the Legendary Giveback concert, an evening that will raise awareness and funds for a number of nonprofit organizations this fall. The two Southern icons are teaming up for one night, in one town in the Southeast, to bring their fans together and raise awareness of the causes in need. 

A portion of the proceeds raised by the concert will benefit a number of local and national charities, specifically addressing the needs of families. Operation Homefront, a national charity that provides emergency financial and other assistance to the families of our service members and Wounded Warriors, will be one of the primary recipients, and the other partner organizations will be announced this summer. ...

The Legendary Giveback builds upon the relationship Cheerwine and the Avett Brothers have cultivated in recent years, which includes Scott Avett voicing a series of Cheerwine radio advertisements. The partnership will allow Cheerwine and Avett Brothers fans to enjoy the concert experience of a lifetime, with the added bonus of supporting a number of important causes. ...

"As musicians, an event like this is a natural way for us to give back to our fans," said Scott Avett, lead singer and multi-instrumentalist for the Avett Brothers. "To realize the needs of these groups is humbling. We're proud to be able to contribute."
Details of the concert will be revealed in July. Fans are encouraged to stay tuned for updates at and on Twitter at

What a terrific partnership. A good buddy of mine once had cartons of Cheerwine shipped to him when he lived in Washington, D.C. And we have addressed on this blog how the Avetts may just be the "most" North Carolina of acts.

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Monday, May 14, 2012

Must read: Why Am I a North Carolinian?

One of the nice things about being in the communications world is often random publications come across my desk that I otherwise would never see. One such publication that I recently saw for the first time was North Carolina Conversations, a quarterly of the North Carolina Humanities Council. (In all honesty, I had never heard of either the publication OR the Council.)

In the Winter/Spring issue of Conversations is a wonderful piece by Melton McLaurin, professor emeritus of history at UNC Wilmington and a former chair of the N.C. Humanities Council. Here is a link to Conversations; McLaurin's "Why Am I  a North Carolinian" is on page 7.

For those of us who grew up in the Old North State, this is a fantastic, nostalgic and romantic look at why we love this state so much. McLaurin writes -- stream of conscious -- about childhood trips to Carolina Beach, or visits to family in Virginia ("a foreign land"). He talks of the state fair, and of basketball -- "the other religion" -- and the "magic figures" of Everett Case and Frank McGuire. In short, he writes of a "sense of place, of rootedness."

I can't do it justice. Just promise me you'll read it.


Monday, May 07, 2012

Remembering sailors on Ocracoke's 'British' soil

We first heard about this three years ago, and it's a very fascinating story. From the N&O.

Tom Cunningham considers it a great act of generosity that the people on the small island of Ocracoke would set aside a plot of land to bury his father and three other British sailors 70 years ago.

Sub-Lt. Thomas Cunningham was one of 37 crewmen aboard the HMS Bedfordshire when it was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of North Carolina on the night of May 11, 1942.

The Bedfordshire, a fishing trawler outfitted with guns and loaded with depth charges, was one of two dozen ships of its kind that the British navy loaned the United States in the early months of 1942, in an attempt to ward off the U-boats preying on tankers and freighters along the East Coast.

None of the Bedfordshire crew survived the sinking. Three days later, two bodies washed up on Ocracoke, followed by two more a week later. They were buried in that small plot now known as the British Cemetery.

Two of the men were identified, and two were not. All four were laid to rest on the island, and that spot of land was deeded to England after the war. 

On Friday, as they do every year, the U.S. Coast Guard, the British and Canadian governments and the people of the Outer Banks will hold a ceremony at the cemetery to commemorate those four sailors and the others who were never found. And for just the second time, Sub-Lt. Cunningham’s son will be there.

“For 70 years, give or take, the American people have been putting themselves through a great deal of trouble to commemorate those British seamen who died during the war,” Cunningham said by phone from his home near Liverpool. “It’s their way of saying thank you to us, and [coming to Ocracoke] is my way of acknowledging their thanks.”

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