After almost five years and over 280 consecutive weekly issues, publisher Robert Dickson has decided to sell The Carrboro Citizen. I find this sad news in a market already saturated with local news reporting, including the outstanding news and information presented on WCHL and chapelboro.com. Of course, other papers cover Carrboro stories, but nobody has actually based a major publication in The Paris of the Piedmont since Nyle Frank’s Invisible University with its Centipede rag in 1970, and Jim Heavner’s Village Advocate published from upstairs at 103 West Weaver over 30 years ago.
In 2007, Dickson took a chance and launched a new Carrboro-based community newspaper, geared to primarily covering Carrboro, while reporting Chapel Hill, Orange and Chatham stories as well. Dickson’s family has also owned and published The News Journal in Raeford since 1928. Digital distribution of news has hurt most, if not all, print publications, but community journalism still thrives nationwide, with most locally-based weekly papers doing well, according to legendary local photojournalist, Carrboro Citizen columinist and senior UNC Journalism lecturer, Jock Lauterer.
Lauterer teaches community journalism at Carolina and regularly helps his students get published in The Citizen, as well as in the J-school’s on-line publication, Carrboro Commons. Nowadays, websites regularly mirror and expand news coverage traditionally available only in primary publications. Readers can easily search previous issues and articles from the comfort of their Internet connection without being resigned to physical trips to search library microfilm.
One of my regular Thursday-evening rituals involves stopping on NC 54 West on the way home and picking up my copy of The Citizen at White Cross Citgo. Local advertising in The Citizen continues strong compared to other papers, despite the recession. It’s a place where Carrboro business can preach to their own, even though most of the paper’s 7300 copy weekly distrubution (at more than 200 urban and rural locations) is, ironically, in Chapel Hill. Add web readers, and The Citizen’s reach totals over 15,000 eyes consistently enjoying what the paper’s outstanding staff and citizen contributors have to say each week. The Citizen has helped make Carrboro news stories equal in stature to those in Chapel Hill, while only a couple of decades ago, these stories were routinely placed “below the fold” or relegated to inside pages.
Besides its outstanding coverage of local news, The Citizen also excels in printing special sections, such as its monthly Mill insert and extra “tabs” for community events such as Carrboro Day, the Carrboro Music Festival and the “awesome” (Dickson’s words) Carrboro Resource Guide.
Dickson says he’s just become tired from the stress and financial pressures of running a small business since 1977, adding “the time has come for me to pass the baton.” He now runs an unusual house ad pleading “Buy This Newspaper.” Let’s hope that ad doesn’t run long. I certainly feel some forward-thinking citizen will soon come forward and rescue this print/web gem.
Dickson explains his public “highly non-traditional method of seeking new ownership” by saying the paper belongs mostly to its readers. Therefore, he feels readers “should have first crack at continuing what we’ve begun.”
Dickson has no interest in selling his paper to anyone “who would change its focus from nuanced, community-focused journalism.” He wants to find a buyer with the energy and resources to take The Citizen to the next level of community involvement, circulation and sales without messing too much with the product he has molded into such a fine example of locally-owned and -operated community-based print and web journalism over the last five years.
Support messages already grace The Citizen’s Web site. One reader posted “I don’t know how I’ll get through the week without The Citizen.” Someone pondered purchase and operating options, while another simply exclaimed “NOOoooooooooooooo. Please say it isn’t so!” Obviously, the community supports the paper.
So if you’ve ever wanted to venture into long-form local journalism and ad sales, call Robert and start negotiating before this highly professional, award-winning, free-circulation publication folds this fall. After all, we wouldn’t want WCHL Commentator Chuck Morton to lose his distribution job. Dickson says he’s already had “some interest” from potential buyers. Surely, someone will step up. Whatever the price, this crucial hyper-local resource is too important to lose.
Listen to Richard Taylor’s piece as it aired on WCHL:http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/save-the-carrboro-citizen
Last week WCHL celebrated the 35th Anniversary of Ron Stutts’ start at the station. Surely you noticed, with all the on-the-air promos and all the guests and surprises in the studio last Friday morning.
Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt declared it Ron Stutts week in Chapel Hill. Former mayor of Chapel Hill Howard Lee and his wife Lillian came in to express their appreciation. Chapel Hill police chief Chris Blue and fire chief Dan Jones came in and presented Ron with a First Responders T-shirt, since ‘CHL seems to usually be first to inform the community of dangers and natural disasters, such as the devastating December 2002 ice storm that hit the area just a few weeks after the station “came back” to Chapel Hill from Durham. Former Carrboro mayor and current state senator Ellie Kinnaird came in to thank Ron for his service.
There were dozens more, including phone calls and appearances from some of Ron’s on-the-air compatriots from years past. Of course, Ron’s regular cronies Dr. Wayne Pond and Freddie Kiger were there with humor and insight as well. WCHL station manager Christy Dixon and owner Barry Leffler orchestrated all the celebrations. Numerous promos ran on-air all week.
As we ponder Mister Stutts’ contributions, we are blessed to have Ron and his comedic cast of characters to wake us up weekdays, compared to the formulaic morning zoo madness heard on most radio stations nationwide. Sure, Ron gives us the news, so aptly prepared by Aaron Keck and the award-winning ‘CHL news department. But Ron informs us and entertains us as well.
He’s a master at the control board and produces the show himself. That would take three jobs in New York or L.A.
Ron knows how to laugh at himself. When he makes a rare mistake, Ron includes us, his listeners, as he owns the joke and rolls on. Most listeners don’t realize all the preparation and behind-the-scenes work Ron performs each day to make the next day’s show sing. He schedules Commentators like me to give our best 90 seconds. He finds our daily Hometown Heroes, produces their stories and even brings in Pets of the Week. He emcees dozens of local events and charities each year and records numerous station spots and promos. Sure, Ron is the voice of WCHL, but he’s also the voice of the local community as well.
So, thanks for your longevity, Ron Stutts. You’re just as much a Hometown Hero as anyone Gerald Ramoin ever put in the spotlight. You’re the glue that holds us together, and we really appreciate it.
See you on the radio.
Richard Taylor recorded and edited this video of the Town of Chapel Hill’s Fourth of July Fireworks Celebration, saying, “It’s so nobody will have missed out on seeing them.” Please enjoy what was an amazing night for everybody involved, then click on the image below to view a gallery of shots he took of the evening’s stage show.
Click here for the first half of Richard Taylor’s in-depth tribute to Doc Watson.
Speakers told how Doc saw with his ears. Doc’s long time bass player and driver T. Michael Coleman emotionally remembered how Doc would practice his stage stories over and over as they drove to far away concerts.
Coleman lovingly told the congregation “Doc was always Doc. No pretense, no inflated ego and no set list. He never talked down to his audience, they were always included, and they could feel it.”
“Doc experienced the life he sang about. He understood the characters in his songs, and in a few cases, he was actually related to them. He made his audience care.”
Coleman said Doc taught him “respect was far more valuable than adoration and that doing the right thing was important no matter what the cost. My connection was never stronger than (when) he would take my arm to be his eyes. The trust embodied in that gesture was humbling. I always felt it an honor to take him on stage.”
Coleman added “blindness was never a problem for Doc. If he wanted to do something, he would figure out a way to do it, like wiring his house, or building an out building. He could tell you what kind of metal something was made of, just by rubbing his fingers on it and bringing his fingers to his nose.”
Coleman asked us to close our eyes. “Smell, listen,” he said, “this was Doc’s world, this is how he fell in love with Rosa Lee and these mountains that he cherished so much.”
“Now open your eyes, “Coleman instructed, “as Doc did when he crossed over, (saying) ‘I was blind, but now I see.’ “
Coleman added his vision of what happened next. “There in front of him was the face he had been longing to see his entire life, his son Merle. Merle took his hand and said to Doc ‘Daddy, I’ve been waiting for you, come on let’s go. There’s someone I want you to meet.’ And as they approached the Gates of Heaven, there was the other face he had been praying to see, his Savior, Jesus Christ.”
Even country star Randy Travis (by recording) reflected his respect and friendship for Doc, singing his song “Dr. Jesus,” a number Doc really loved.
Long-time Deep Gap friend and driver Robert Doyle said Doc “really taught me how to see, that’s the way he was, just a regular country guy. Doc was authentic. His concerts were not performances, as much as conversations with his audience, graced by wonderful colorful stories leading into most songs.”
Doc played many guitars over his long career, including his first Stella, then Gibson, Martin and Gallagher models. Guitar maker and friend Wayne Henderson was among many of Doc’s friends paying musical tributes on stage that Sunday. Watson played a Henderson guitar when I saw him at Sugar Grove last summer.
Long time manager and promoter Mitch Greenhill flew in from California, saying he first saw Doc at the Newport Folk Festival in 1963. “I guess you all know that the impact of Doc’s music, which he learned here, has spun from the far reaches of this country to Europe and even Africa.”
Watson was without comparison as a musician,” Greenhill reflected, “but he was generous enough to invite us to share his music with him on stage and let others lead a song. I’d like to thank Doc for showing me a true path through music.”
Watson’s nephew, Rev. Gary Watson of Boone, presided over the service, with the assistance of Doc’s family friend, Pastor Larry Young.
On that June 3 Sunday afternoon, Pastor Young said there were three things we should know about Watson. He said, “Doc loved the Lord, he loved his family and he was down to earth, he didn’t let fame and fortune go to his head.”
Rev. Watson closed the service by asking the congregation to join him in “one last farewell” — and we did, saying, “We love you, Doc!”
Doc was laid to rest at the Doc and Merle Watson Cemetery on the family farm in the hollows of Deep Gap, off the Doc and Merle Watson Highway (US 421), 10 miles east of Boone. His son and past musical partner Merle was buried there following a tragic tractor accident in Foscoe in 1985.
Afterwards, I saw two yellow butterflies chasing each other through the hundreds of rows of Fraser Firs waiting to become Christmas trees, on a hill overlooking Old US 421, near Doc’s home. Maybe that was just Merle chasing his father around the fields, as if to say, “Welcome home, Dad.”
As the full moon rose over Doc’s birthplace Stoney Fork, off the Blue Ridge Parkway, just east of Deep Gap that Sunday evening, birds accompanied each other as their songs seeped through the trees and down into the valleys. And if you listened real closely, you could almost hear a favorite son flatpicking along with lightning fast renditions of “Tennessee Stud,” Shady Grove” and “Tom Dooley.”
So, whenever you drive through Deep Gap on the way to the mountains, remember this small community at the Eastern Continental Divide is famous around the world for one thing — the home of Arthel Lane Watson. Doc, you made all us Tar Heels proud. Thank you for the music so many have loved over such a long time.
Doc and Merle Watson Highway, Deep Gap, NC, 6-3-2012
Flowers Adorn Doc Watson Bronze Statue, Boone, NC, 6-3-2012
The Full Moon Rises Over Doc Watson’s Birthplace at Stoney Fork Overlook, Blue Ridge Parkway, Deep Gap, NC, 6-3-2012
When I learned of Doc Watson’s death May 29, I was saddened, but not surprised. News bulletins had earlier reported that Doc, 89, fell at his Deep Gap home a week earlier and was rushed to Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, where doctors also found an abdominal blockage.
I’ve had the privilege of hearing this national treasure perform many times over the last 35 years. I was fortunate to be in the Boone area last July, so I ventured over to the annual Music Fest ‘n Sugar Grove at the old Cove Creek School, an event originally named for this winner of seven Grammies, the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other honors. President Bill Clinton presented Doc with The National Medal of Arts in 1997. Doc also received The North Carolina Award for Fine Arts in 1986 (our state’s highest civilian award) and North Carolina Folk Heritage Award in 1994.
That Saturday night last summer, on a lawn turned concert stage, Doc’s normally clear, high baritone voice seemed somewhat strained. His famous fast flatpicking technique was slower than I remembered from earlier years. The devoted audience hardly seemed to notice. We were in awe, as he characteristically cracked a slight smile as he called on his stage mates to “take it, boys.”
That old school building now houses the Doc and Merle Watson Folk Art Museum. The third Saturday in July has also been declared “Doc Watson Day” by the state and Watauga County for many years.
Doc was backed-up last July by the fabulous Krüger Brothers acoustic trio and his then playing partner, grandson Richard Watson. It didn’t matter that he struggled over a few words or slipped on some chords. After all, this was still Doc Watson, playing to over 2,000 devoted, transfixed fans under a huge tent. It was a magical night.
This year’s Sugar Grove festival brochure has already been printed and shows Doc as the usual headliner. No matter. Doc’s memory will live on forever there, and at Merlefest in Wilkesboro.
I fondly remember taking my father to see Doc once at the Valle Crucis Community Park in 1997. Doc had something in common with my father, too. Both were born and raised in Watauga County and both were 89 when they died.
In a press release, Gov. Bev Purdue said, “Our state was fortunate to have such a worldwide ambassador of North Carolina’s culture and heritage. He will be missed.”
I first experienced Doc’s unpretentious, down-home style in 1976, writing my first music review, as Doc and Merle Watson’s performed at The Pier nightclub, a long closed hotspot in Raleigh’s Cameron Village.
“Do you have a tape recorder, son?” Doc asked after the show. He called everybody “son,” and never gave interviews to anyone without a recorder, so he wouldn’t be misquoted.
“Yes sir,” I said, “of course I do.” I don’t remember much about that session, except the politeness and sincerity of this humble, authentic mountain man, and his willingness to faithfully answer even the most innocuous questions from a greenhorn reporter.
Despite his fame and popularity, Doc was as modest and polite as you could ever ask. He interpreted hundreds of tunes during his long career and called his own particular style “traditional plus,” though some have characterized his complex mix of country, gospel, folk, blues and Appalachian roots music as simply Bluegrass. It has been said that Watson virtually invented the art of playing traditional mountain fiddle tunes on a flattop guitar.
In the days following his death, fans flocked to Doc’s bronze statue unveiled last year near the Mast General Store branch in downtown Boone. Flowers and heartfelt notes almost completely covered the memorialized singer and guitarist, as he sat frozen in time, picking his guitar on a park bench. The statue’s inscription reads “Just One of the People,” as requested by Doc.
At Laurel Springs Baptist Church in Deep Gap June 3, hundreds waited in line to pay their last respects. Doc was posed in his typical concert garb, a red, blue and black checkered shirt, much like the one he had worn in a family portrait, with wife Rosa Lee, son Merle and daughter Nancy, placed in the church vestibule. A miniature guitar lay in an open case beside his left ear. His guitar pick rested between his right hand picking fingers, as if Doc was getting ready to play heavenly tunes in his next afterlife concert. A huge arrangement of yellow roses would later cover the coffin.
Preachers and friends, musicians and neighbors eulogized this legend, blind from infancy, with tale after tale of how this flatpicking, finger-picking phenomenon learned banjo, harmonica and guitar at an earlier age, and how he worked his way up the folk music ladder through the 50s and 60s.
They remembered how Doc played street corners, radio stations and small clubs during his “dues paying days,” before graduating to the Newport Folk Festival and Greenich Village clubs during the 60s folk revival, later touring Europe, Asia and the world. Doc regularly played his home state too, often since 1998, with folklorist David Holt, another NC storyteller and multi-talented minstrel musician. Holt related during the service how “We love you, Doc,” were the last words spoken at Doc’s bedside, just before he died, May 29. Holt posts an extensive tribute to close friend and “musical father” at .
Doc Watson, Music Fest ‘n Sugar Grove, 7-9-2011
Mourners Wait to Enter Laurel Springs Baptist Church, Doc Watson Funeral, Deep Gap, NC, June 3, 2012
Check back on Friday, June 15 for the second half of Richard Taylor’s in-depth tribute to Doc Watson.http://chapelboro.com/columns/the-commentators/remembering-favorite-son-doc-watson-part-1