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February 2009 Volunteer Spotlight - Bill Duncan

Bill Duncan

When you ask MerleFest fans what their favorite part of the festival is, you get varied answers. Some say it's the people watching, some say the camaraderie, and some say the funnel cakes. Then there are the real bluegrass aficionados like Bill Duncan of Winston-Salem, North Carolina. MerleFest 2009 will be Bill's tenth consecutive year to volunteer as a member of the stage crews. He has worked every stage except Hillside and enjoys working Community Outreach (MerleFest entertainers go to local nursing homes and all Wilkes County schools on Thursday and Friday).

Even with his busy schedule as Vice-President for Financial Affairs at High Point University, Bill still finds time for two great loves - his family and bluegrass music. He has been married to his wife, Wanda, for twenty-seven years and has two wonderful children. Wanda works at Wake Forest University in the Graduate School and, for fun, writes articles for Our State Magazine. Alison (a big Avett Brothers fan) is twenty-two and is a senior at UNC Chapel Hill. Will is eighteen and a senior at RJ Reynolds High School in Winston-Salem. Bill hopes to have the entire family present at MerleFest this year.

He also enjoys playing the banjo (Scruggs style) and has played tuba in the Moravian Band for over twenty-five years. His banjo instructor is Craig Smith who plays with Laurie Lewis and the Right Hands. Bill feels honored to be taught by Craig who is a Grammy winner and who Bill calls "one of the finest banjo players in the WORLD." This is evidenced by an Earl Scruggs tribute CD currently being put together in Nashville - Craig was asked to play "Foggy Mountain Breakdown." Bill and family attend Home Moravian Church in Old Salem. Their church band plays each year in the Moravian Easter Sunrise Service - the longest running Easter sunrise service in the United States. This year will be the 234th consecutive year.

When asked about special MerleFest memories, Bill couldn't just think of one. He has many. One is from his very first MerleFest when none other than Doc Watson joined him at his dining table! "We had a very pleasant conversation. Doc is very down to earth, and took an interest in what I had to say. That confirmed my decision to volunteer at MerleFest."

Another great memory was being asked personally by Jerry Douglas to carry his dobro from his bus to the dressing room. Bill enthused, "I didn't drop the dobro!!!"

He also fondly remembers a Sunday morning set by John Cowan who, near the end of the set, introduced John Paul Jones who was the bass player for Led Zeppelin. (Bill heard a couple near him saying, "John Paul who?" and "Led what?") "They went through 'Dazed and Confused' and did great homage to Led Zeppelin on it," Bill says. "They played the entire song and suddenly went straight back into the bluegrass song they were playing originally. It was absolutely amazing!"

As MerleFest regulars know, there are always surprises at the festival. One memorable surprise for Bill was at the Creekside stage late one evening when an excellent Nashville studio musician was playing and singing and a golf cart drove up carrying Doc Watson. "Doc came onto the stage, and the guy performing was just beside himself. It was something to see and hear when Doc joined him. An absolutely outstanding time was had by all."

If you haven't been to MerleFest, you are missing out on these amazing musical experiences. So join Bill and all the other music fans at MerleFest 2009. The music is great and the funnel cake is pretty good too.