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I began this blog in order to share my experiences learning instrument building from my dad, but along with those stories I look forward to sharing my memories of growing up with two busy, musically inclined parents as well as my current experiences stepping out on my own as a female luthier promoting environmental sustainability in her instruments while working to alter gender stereotypes in a male dominated field. If you'd like to use quotes from this blog for interviews or in your own work, please contact me first! (email is henderson.elizabethj@gmail.com)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

The 18th Annual Wayne C. Henderson Festival

To get myself in the mood to write you a story, I need a little background music. That's better. The Water Tower Bucket Boys are singing their song"Crooked Road" at full blast on my computer. Ideally they would be singing it to me in real life, but since I had the pleasure of that opportunity yesterday, I probably shouldn't press my luck with an encore. 

This year's festival was by far the best I have ever attended, and I have attended all of them excepting the one in 2005 when I was working as a kayak guide in Alaska so the commute would have been a tad diffuclt, not to mention supremely expensive. But even then my thoughtful, amazing mother made me a DVD of the show complete with messages from her, my dad, and friends who were lucky enough to attend. 

Usually I feel really lucky to have a father in such a position where folks flock to him just to be part of something amazing, but around festival time I tend to feel a little bit left out, especially since Father's Day is the following Sunday and I have never been able to have a dad who has time to spend that with me. This year was completely different. Well, maybe with one exception. 
I spread my Granny's Dalmatian-printed quilt, the one she gave me for Christmas, onto the grass infront of the stage. I felt she deserved to be there too, and I know she would have loved every minute of it. My friend Dori started off the afternoon with a great set, singing her original and 40's songs with her uncle and dad backing her up on the banjo and mandolin respectively. 

Water Tower Bucket Boys. Go buy their albums on iTunes. Immediately.
With a little bit of apprehension, I watched my dad, Charles Welch, the Kruger Brother's and a few other guests take the stage to pay tribute to my good friend Doc Watson. Harper, Nick, and I, along with our friend Stephen and my cousin Leah, her friend Katie, and two of the Water Tower Bucket Boys piled onto the quilt. My heart broke a little as I watched my dad pick up the guitar I had painstakingly crafted for Doc, but of course he made it sound amazing and played it beautifully and full of grace. It was a tribute I am pretty sure Doc would have approved of; at one point we all stood and yelled, "We love you Doc!" and concluded the ceremony with a group rendition of "Will the Circle Be Unbroken". Tears streamed down my face, but I was so happy to have said a proper goodbye to Doc since I just couldn't attend the funeral and it had been eating at me ever since. The weather yesterday was amazing; Doc did that for us I am pretty sure, just like he set his guitar neck for me.  Josh Rabie, one of the Bucket Boys enveloped me a hug and it was nice to be able to share in our sadness over losing such an incredible person and musician. 

Tanner McInerey and Mac Sumner lead us in song!  
Following the amazing performances at the park, we all migrated down to my house for some barbecue and informal pickin'. I was overwhelmed with the praise I was given over my guitar by some really incredible musicians. John Arnold, a well known and respected luther, was so complimentary over my Oak creation, which means a lot as he sort of pioneered using such woods. I was honored to have met him, and to have him play my guitar for an hour and a half in the middle of the night was something worth noting in my journal. Another incredible guitarist from nearby, Steve Lewis, also played it and made the wood box literally sing. I have never heard anything quite like it. The night culminated with 19 people stuffed into a little popup camper, it's tiny fans on full blast, passing around my White Oak guitar, the Koa guitar that I helped my dad make, and a beautiful Brazilian Rosewood D size made by Max Rosa, a lawyer/luthier who came all the way from Brazil to hang out with us. I feel a sort of kindred spirit in him...wonder why...We sang songs including Wagon Wheel, Free Fallin', and multiple Johnny Cash hits long into the evening. I went to bed exhilarated and so happy that I know such great folks.

This morning, however, I was told by a woman staying at my house that I have "a reputation of being a brat". I have a good guess as to who likes to spread that rumor, and only assume it is because I desperately want to be included in my dad's world, and wish to be seen as someone more important than the throngs of visitors. Due to that insecurity I tend to keep my distance when a gaggle descends. Still, hearing that was incredibly hurtful to me, and I really hope that that isn't the thought of everyone who comes here to vist my dad, as I really enjoy spending time with most folks who stop by. Maybe she is right, but no one knows what it is like to be me, living in the shadow of someone so great that people are willing to shove his own daughter aside in order to have five minutes of his attention. On the plus side, I am so proud to have made myself a place in my dad's world and I stand by the work that I have been doing in the shop thus far. I only wish I were better able to take my dad's advice of, "when people say things you don't like, just don't listen to them." 

No one can spoil the amazing weekend I had with my amazing friends and my daddy. 

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

New Guitar!

Yesterday afternoon, with several visitors eagerly looking on, I strung up Doc's guitar. It was painfully bittersweet, as the sound is amazingly clear and strong, but it was palpably difficult to hear knowing who it is for won't be around to get it. I am not sure I am able to accurately articulate what I felt listening to those first notes played on the new guitar, so I am just going to share these pictures until I think of anything better to say. 

In less downer news, my dad's annual festival will be held on Saturday. The shop has already begun to swarm with visitors eager to start celebrating the weekend's lineup of great musicians. This year promises to provide a great show; Dori Freeman, The Water Tower Bucket Boys, The Gibson Brothers, and of course a tribute to Doc during his slot. My dad has promised to play Doc's new guitar during that bit, which I am very grateful for, but again that bittersweet feeling creeps in as well. Hopefully it will be a great day with beautiful weather, hope to see you there! 

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Happy Father's Day (To Me)

I'm not even sure how to start this entry. I want to be positive and happy, but it is shaping up to be difficult as I am still feeling a little bit sad. And I don't think that will change much until I am done with this guitar. It is odd though, as it still doesn't feel to me like Doc won't be visiting the shop anymore. Since he would typically pop in every few weeks or so, it still seems like he could shuffle in with his friend Charles any day now.

The guitar I have been working on, upon Doc's request, has been progressing surprisingly well over the past week. When I went to measure the neck and fit the dovetail joint snugly into the body of the guitar, it was a perfect fit straight from the table saw. If you have never fit a neck before, you probably won't understand the significance of that neck fitting so well on the first try, but such a feat is rare. Typically I spend all day fitting, rasping, and sanding in order to get the correct angle and shape on the dovetail to fit to the body correctly. I like to think that maybe Doc is helping me out, encouraging me to finish.

Taking a break from finishing the guitar today, my dad and I had a lovely Father's Day. I decided today was Father's Day because for the past 18 years I have spent actual Father's Day watching my dad spend it with a ton of other people, as it falls on the day following his festival. This year will be no exception as plans have been made for several gatherings at our house that day. It is too tiring to be hurt, so I decided that I would take advantage of some time together and that would be our day. It shaped up to be quite lovely. We went to visit with my uncle Max for the afternoon and ended up playing a few tunes together while we were there. Well, more accurately, I plucked out the notes to You Are My Sunshine and my dad graciously backed me up, and then I struggled to keep accurate time while mashing the correct chords on my mandolin for his breaks. Arkansas Traveler and Turkey in the Straw went similarly. It was really fun though, as typically if I want to attempt to play music it is in the shop with a bunch of folks milling about increasing my stress level, and decreasing my confidence exponentially.

No one visited the shop after we returned from visiting my uncle, so I got to spend a few quiet moments in there tonight as well. The evening has been primarily filled with sanding and spraying my guitar, with a quick break for tacos. I am so excited to see this one finished, and to hear its first sounds emerge from the soundhole. Of course, the excitement is glazed with a little bit of sadness, but I think Doc would be proud of this guitar, and whether I really believe it or not, it is comforting to think he is encouraging me along the way. I also probably wouldn't have made a guitar for myself, so maybe I should look at the loss of a really great fellow as a gift of a really great guitar.