COLUMBIA — Once called "the Buddha that I pray to every day" by Creedence Clearwater Revival frontman John Fogerty, Jerry Douglas has been a groundbreaking figure in bluegrass music for decades.
Because his father had a bluegrass band, Douglas has been surrounded by music since his childhood. When he first came across the Dobro, an acoustic resonator guitar often responsible for the twang in country and bluegrass music, Douglas knew he had found his instrument of choice.
WHAT: The Jerry Douglas band, part of the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ festival.
WHEN: 9:30 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Mediacom Stage, Peace Park, at Elm and Seventh streets
"I went to see a Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs show, and I saw a guy playing the Dobro," Douglas said. "I decided that's what I wanted to do. I've been playing Dobro ever since then."
This weekend, Douglas will bring his act to Columbia; he and his band are set to headline the Roots 'N' Blues 'N' BBQ Festival on Saturday night, a reprise of their performance at the first festival last year.
"I had a great time there," Douglas said. "It was a really friendly crowd; they liked good music. A perfect situation."
Douglas said he prefers playing in the atmosphere provided by outdoor festivals such as Roots 'N' Blues because it gives the audience more freedom.
"A lot of times, you go inside into a nice pretty hall, it's a little stifling for people," Douglas said. "Outside, everyone feels free to just go ahead and do whatever they feel like. We love to hear people yell and react to what we're doing."
Douglas is perhaps most well-known for his role in Union Station, the band that plays with folk star Alison Krauss. They were featured on the soundtrack for the film "Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?"
Beyond that, Douglas has released several solo albums and has collaborated with music giants including James Taylor and Ray Charles. He's known for a unique mastery of his instrument.
"He can do stuff with the Dobro that you wouldn't think could be done with only six strings and a steel bar," said Dirk Burhans, a Columbia musician who picked up the Dobro when he joined the local band The Bait Shop Boys. "Unlike a regular guitar, it's played with a steel bar with the left hand. It's real hard to move (the bar) rapidly. You're moving it between strings and you're trying to keep the strings from ringing at the same time."
Burhans, a self-described jazz musician at heart, played with The Bait Shop Boys at the Roots 'N' Blues festival last year, an example of how the festival welcomes not only national, but also local, talent.
"There's a lot of lesser-known people coming through," Burhans said. "There could be some real surprises, plus some of our good local musicians like Noah Earle."
Burhans said he plans to take full advantage of the festival and is looking forward to seeing both Douglas and Buddy Guy, the other main performer on Saturday night.
"I think it's great," Burhans said of Roots 'N' Blues. "It's going to put (Columbia) on the map in terms of festivals."
Douglas, who is playing another outdoor festival in San Francisco before heading to Columbia, said festival-goers can expect a lively show with plenty of high-energy songs rounded out by some more mellow tunes from him and his band.
Douglas' new album provides one of those slower tunes: the title track, "Glide," which Douglas said is one of his favorite to play. If the album is any indication, Saturday night's show should have an eclectic sound; Douglas said reviews of "Glide" made him realize the mix of styles present in the album.
"We're sort of a country, bluegrass, rock and roll, blues band," Douglas said with a chuckle. "People’s musical palates are broad these days, and that’s what we are."