For his second appearance at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964, Doc Watson brought his band which was very decidedly a family affair. Singing with him was his mother Mrs General Dixon Watson and his wife Rosa Lee. His brother Arnold was on banjo, his father-in-law Gaither Carlton was on fiddle and banjo and his 15 year-old son Merle was on second guitar. The outfit delighted the festival audience whose preconception of hillbilly mountain music was quickly dispelled by the well-spoken and intensely musical group.
This collection was intelligently compiled from various performances at the festival that year, including main stage shows, workshop events and the famed evening concerts. Together they play like a whole show, with songs such as ‘Lights In the Valley’ and ‘I Heard My Mother Weeping’ interspersed with sparkling instrumental duets by Doc and son Merle. Included as a solo performance is the traditional local murder ballad ‘Omie Wise’, sung during one of Rhode Island’s chillier evenings. The various family members appear with Doc in varied groupings. Gaither plays a mournful fiddle on ‘Hick’s Farewell’, Arnold duels banjos with Doc on ‘White House Blues’, while Gaither does the same on ‘Jimmy Sutton/The Old Buck Ram’. Doc and the family also pop up in the various workshops on autoharp, dulcimer and fiddle, with a selection of the recordings included here, but it was the wonderful guitar workshop duets with son Merle on ‘Beaumont Rag’ and ‘Billy In The Low Ground’ that had the greatest effect on other budding guitarists at the time.
Added at the end of the CD are four tracks of Doc playing with the young Clarence White of the Kentucky Colonels, also on the bill that year. Despite working on a cold evening in less than ideal conditions, their singing and playing stand out. ‘Beaumont Rag’ makes its second appearance, allowing for comparisons by the cognoscenti, while the new pairing also obviously enjoyed performing ‘Farewell Blues’, ‘Lonesome Road Blues’ and ‘Footprints In The Snow’ for an eager crowd in the chilly air.
Coming as they did at the height of the more commercial revival of folk music, the 19 tracks on this compilation present Doc Watson and his family as sharp purveyors of more traditional music forms. They still sound as fresh as a daisy and continue to delight.