Jerry Garcia continued to “smile, smile, smile” down on Asheville North Carolina last weekend as his close friend and long time acoustic collaborator, David “Dawg” Grisman trailed Melvin Seals into town with a sold out Saturday night show at The Grey Eagle. A master of acoustic jazz and improv, Grisman brought his Bluegrass Experience to the mountains to play, in the words of Dawg himself, “strictly hardcore bluegrass.” With his son, Samson Grisman, keeping time on the stand up bass; and the fiery young flatpicking phenom, Billy Strings, sitting in on guitar, Dawg and the boys took the stage, totally unplugged, and crowded around a single microphone. The night was set to be both a history lesson and an unparalleled display of mountain music.
The schooling in bluegrass tradition began in the truest fashion, with “The Lone Pilgrim” by the late Doc Watson, a contemporary of Grisman’s with a friendship dating back to 1962 when the two played the legendary Gerdes Folk City venue in Greenwich Village, New York City. Dawg and the boys followed the Watson classic with “Muddy Roads,” a tune said to be written by Doc’s father-in-law, Gaylord Cotton. With long winded vocals to take you back to the holler, and lightning fast picking to shake the dust off rattling bones, Billy Strings led the now stomping-and-hollering crowd through Bill Monroe’s “Highway of Sorrow.” After taking a moment to pay respect and shed light on the some of the current atrocities we are facing in this country, Dawg dedicated a righteous new song, duly titled “Standing Rock,” to the Standing Rock Sioux tribe of North Dakota that has been hard at work protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. The ensuing “Dawgy, not Foggy” Mountain Breakdown, got the crowd riled back up, and The Carter Family’s “Gold Watch and Chain” gave the lovers another chance to swing.
A man in a big cowboy hat and a wise old grin made his way to the stage, and Grisman introduced him as Bobby Hicks, a Grammy winning legend with a 23-year-run as Ricky Skaggs’ fiddle player. With 37 strings now on stage, the legends tore into “Deal” before closing the set with “I’m on My Way Back to the Old Home,” another staple from the father of bluegrass music, Bill Monroe. The strings left the stage for a brief respite, as the students of the evening called until they made their way back. “Sawing on the Strings,” a newgrass staple that Grisman recorded in the mid 70s, capped the evening.