Published: Wednesday, May 5, 2010 at 5:05 p.m.
Faithful readers of this column know how much I love to attend Merlefest, Doc Watson's "bluegrass and more" tribute to his late son Merle, who tragically died way too young back in 1985.
I've witnessed some wonderful performances at Merlefest. One of my compadres and I sang along with Arlo Guthrie during a long-ago performance of "Alice's Restaurant," I was privileged to hear Earl Scruggs play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" with Doc on the main stage and even heard "Charlene" and the Darling boys (The Dillards) from the old "The Andy Griffith Show" do a show-stopping rendition of "There is a Time."
All that plus a mesmerizing performance some years back by a trio consisting of Alison Kraus, Emmylou Harris and Gillian Welch have made Merlefest nothing short of a marvel for me since my first one back in 1995.
Friday, I heard and saw something completely different, something that knocked me over like a chicken feather propped up against a bedroom fan.
After listening to an early morning set by Doc Watson and David Holt in the Traditional Tent, Mary Jo and I made our way over to the Pickin' Stage to hear Lexington's own Snyder Family Band.
When we arrived, I saw a few tents set up and underneath one of them, eight musicians were sitting in a circle, getting ready to jam awhile with guitars, fiddles, a couple of mandolins and a banjo. What happened next caused every adult jaw to drop, and I haven't seen eyes that big since a hog chased my sisters and me on our Grandpa Charlie's farm outside of Stokesdale 50 years ago.
I heard genuine old school bluegrass coming from beneath that tent - and I'm talking seriously good, old-school bluegrass, foot-stompin' bluegrass, side-slappin' bluegrass, I'm talking about fiddle-bows-on-fire bluegrass.
And no one, no one in the circle was more than 15 years old.
Zeb and Samantha Snyder, both of whom are about as world-class as two young people can be and could stand on the stage with any flat-picking guitarist and fiddle player at the festival, led the group. Joining them were some of their friends, the Wilsons from Moore County. One of the Wilson boys played a guitar that was as big as he was, and at one point he uttered the line of the festival as far as I'm concerned.
After one fantastic jam that gave all the youngsters an opportunity to solo, the boy looked around the group and said, "Man we could use a bass player, oh and Mom, I'm getting kind of hungry!" I don't have to tell you that he brought the house down with that one.
The Snyder Family Band was profiled here in The Dispatch a couple of weeks ago, and you learned that Bud and Laine Snyder started teaching 11-year-old Samantha and 14-year-old Zeb classical music as soon as they could hold an instrument. They've got another boy, 4-year-old Owen, who'll join the family on stage real soon, I imagine.
Zeb has only been playing bluegrass on his guitar for three years and recently won top prize at the Jimmy Edmonds Homecoming Competition in a guitar competition in Galax, Va. Tony Rice and Doc Watson, watch out. Zeb's a'comin'. Read more.
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