(March 3, 1923 – May 29, 2012)
i think i saw doc 3 times at the cactus, over my span working there. he was one of the friendliest musicians I've met, self-effacing to the point of delightful, with a humility that made you want to be a better person. if you didn't know who he was, he blended in with the crowd, simply seeming an unassuming character. this was all made the more jarring once he was led to his chair on the stage. every time I saw him at the cactus, this blind, friendly, humble character became who he was: an enormous american legend. he was not nearly as well known as he should've been. but that was to the benefit of everyone who had the chance to see him in these small spaces. every time I saw him there it was as though I'd been invited to see something akin to robert johnson in my own living room.
years later... october 1, 2005. san francisco. golden gate park. banjo stage at the hardly strictly bluegrass festival. mid day, doc (along with david holt and richard watson) take the stage after del mccoury. we had a great location, as always thanks to my good friend mike clark. doc held the crowd in the palm of his hand, just as he had at the tiny little cactus cafe. it was a sight to behold. perhaps the lack of sight is what made doc so special. undistracted by the visual of either a tiny cafe or a sprawling urban park filled with humanity, he focused on what was right. doc played three more times at that festival, and i think i only missed the last, in 2010. given the amount of competition at HSB, that's saying something. i chose doc over too many great bands/players to mention. because he was a slice of something we may never see again.
and perhaps now for the first time doc is laying eyes on his son merle.