Dobro master Jerry Douglas was midway through his set at New York's tiny B.B. King Blues Club on Friday night, when he stopped to introduce "a very well-known friend of mine. I hope he's here."
The fellow, it turns out, was Paul Simon (Douglas has opened for Simon on tour in recent years). Simon poked his head out from the side of the stage and grinned while audience members rose to their feet, pulling out their camera phones. Looking casual in jeans, a brown jacket and fedora, Simon grabbed a bulky acoustic and began finger picking a gorgeous, spare version of "The Boxer," closing his eyes as he sang the melody. He appeared to relish being backed by bluegrass aficionados, leaving his mic to get close to Douglas to watch him play the melody on his guitar. "A musician like Jerry should be surrounded by extraordinary musicians," Simon said. "And that certainly is the case tonight."
After Simon left, Douglas looked just as stunned as anybody. "That actually happened," he said. "That wasn't a flashback."
Douglas is a master dobro player – standing up, he played a steel resonator guitar, facing upward, with a slide. He's most well known for playing in Alison Krauss' Union Station, but he's recorded with artists like Ray Charles and Eric Clapton. "He's my favorite musician," John Fogerty has said. "And I'm including Otis Redding and Elvis in that."
Last night, Douglas led his stellar trio – drummer Omar Hakim, bassist Viktor Krauss and violinist Luke Bella – through challenging acoustic versions of Weather Report's "A Remark You Made" and Jimi Hendrix's "Hey Joe," picking both chords and intensely complicated melodies in front of a crowd of hardcore bluegrass fans. Douglas' own "Push Too Far" featured so many rapid notes, he breathed a sigh of relief after it was over. He also played cuts from his upcoming album, Traveler – which features guests like Simon, Clapton and Mumford & Sons – including the gorgeous "Gone to Fortingall," between witty banter. "I've been in a lot of bands," Douglas said late in the night. "And this is one of them!"