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Wilcox and Carolina

Updated: Dec 30, 2020

--as published in the Asheville Citizen Times



“DAVID WILCOX!” These words gushed from my mouth without the slightest notion that my brain had endorsed the announcement.


My wife and I were hiking along one of the many trails that criss-cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, I was deep in thought—probably focusing on the way my boots made a squishing-sound when they encountered muck—when I looked up and there he was. David Wilcox.


By the time I had strangely, and unreasonably, shouted the legendary folk-musicians name, my brain had restrained any further outbursts, and thankfully kept me from saying what I wanted to say next—which was, “What are you doing here?!”, as if famous musicians don’t belong on trails criss-crossing the Parkway.


As I approached the renowned object of my vociferation, I politely waved, he nodded, smiled and passed—and my brief, embarrassing encounter with fame had ended. As I turned to look at my wife—whose path had now encountered the approaching talent—she smiled a knowing smile, spoke a reserved, “Hi”, to Mr. Wilcox, and then smiled at me, saying with her eyes, “You are such a big Goober!”


Regrettably, she was right.

In a much less-cringeworthy fashion, Nancy and I were unofficially introduced to David Wilcox one summer evening in the late 80’s when we attended a small concert at McDibbs (aka, The Veranda). It was a casual affair, and although I’m not exactly certain he remembers us—we were 2nd-row back, 3rd and 4th seat on his right, and clearly observable by indirect lighting from the stage—we remember him. And somehow, without much effort on our part, we ended up at his small-venue concerts every 3-4 years.


For some, his folksy, impassioned, story-telling melodies resemble a harmonic-convergence of James Taylor, Henry David Thoreau and Mark Twain. For others, Wilcox requires more specificity; rapturous virtuoso picking; a crisp and engaging voice; layered, nuanced and philosophical lyrics; stories evoking full-monty heart-break to knee-slapping fun. And although no one can legitimately pigeon-hole the music and lyrics of David Wilcox, of one thing all who’ve heard him would agree—his tunes are singularly, ingeniously profound.


Consequently, in the natural absence of teeny-bobbers, cell-phone-waving groupies and people dancing in the aisles, Wilcox draws those who like to hear bluesy, intricate guitar—and those who like to contemplate words. Deep, soul-stirring, sometimes witty, eloquent words. Words that, when connected, form particular thoughts; words that sometimes form stories; stories that require focused, prolonged, intimate chewing (and perhaps, even digestion).


Which may explain why his popularity remains on the low-key side of things. Although playing gigs from Santa Monica to Winston-Salem—with venues the likes of McGabes Guitar Shop or the Muddy Creek Music Cafe—David’s venues are usually 300-seaters or less (usually less), and understandably, he seems to like it that way. Intimacy is central to his vibe and his listeners.


_____________________


Perhaps intimacy is why David Wilcox lives in North Carolina (and occasionally hikes along the sparsely populated trails of the Blue Ridge Parkway). Hailing from Cleveland, Ohio, Wilcox moved to the Asheville area in 1980 and never looked back. Speaking of his past and present home-states, Wilcox commented, “I got out of [Ohio] as quick as I could; do you know anyone who likes it there? [Today, I] get to speak from a state that has dignity. [I am] in a state that has been a country before and looks forward to being one again.”


Referring to Carolinians fiercely independent spirit, Wilcox sounds like one of us.


A largely conservative state, contesting everything from state-sanctioned lotteries to men wandering around in women’s bathrooms, Tar Heels have employed somewhat of a common-sense, we’ll-do-it-our-way approach to life—aided, of course, by a 200-mile stretch of barrier islands (the Outer Banks) and a deeply convoluted interior (thousands of soaring ridges and isolationist valleys).


Self-government and folksy-independent music are in our terrain and in our veins (and highlighted on our State Flag, which incorrectly supposes NC declared independence from the British, both politically and musically, in May of 1975, a year before Jefferson’s Declaration—somebody should probably correct this historical error, but NC politicians are too independent to admit their impropriety).


Anyway, the point is, Wilcox and North Carolina seem to be symbiotically connected at the guitar, a feature which makes for pleasant, profound, intimate, melodiously independent songs. Honestly, the two deserve each other.


And in this spirit of symbiosis and mutual enjoyment, it’s about time North Carolinians named something after him.

Some—the 21st Century crowd—have suggested we rename the Jesse Helms Center after him. Others have recommended a “Wilcox Beer”—the kind of brewski that suddenly makes you giddy, compassionate and sentimental, all at once. Maybe a solitary, elusive peak will do—Mt. Wilcox—carpeted in rich evergreens, sheathed in an enchanting mist, encircled by a crystal clear, softly crooning stream. One large North Carolinian advocated for the creation of a big fat, “Wilcox Special”—a juicy barbecue sandwich with a thick, rich, contemplative sauce (motives were questionable).


I’m guessing David might be able to come up with something a little classier—like maybe something people shout-at when they see it. “Look!!... it’s the DAVID WILCOX”!


Personally, I kind of like that idea. It would certainly bring clarity to my wife.


--Ben Fortson


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