Photo Source: parade.com

Ricky Skaggs is bluegrass history at this point. Fourteen-time Grammy winner. Country/bluegrass/gospel hotshot. Former member of so many great bands including Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys, Boone Creek (featuring dobro royalty Jerry Douglas), Skaggs played with everyone who was anyone: bluegrass pioneers Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, J.D. Crowe and the New South were among the crowned heads of that genre at that time in during the 1970’s, when Skaggs was a young pup. Do yourself a favor and check out this video of a 7-year-old Skaggs first appearing on stage with Flatt and Scruggs: ( youtube.com/watch?v=uCYCCuJLIaA (Preview) ) They were unknowingly making history here, and it’s adorable!

Eventually, and this was my first time seeing him when I was first following the Queen of the Silver Dollar, herself, he picked up a more mainstream following by joining Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, replacing Rodney Crowell (by the way, whose song “’Til I Can Gain Control Again” still takes me there…Oh, and I just heard that Emmylou and Rodney Crowell are touring together again, including some dates with the great and magical Richard Thompson. )

One of my favorite albums ever ever ever is the duet album Ricky Skaggs made with Tony Rice, called “Skaggs and Rice”, released in 1980. I used to listen to this album, well, cassette in those days, every morning during my long commute to work. It made things seem pure and positive and I would sing the third part like I meant it. I recently listened again to that album, yes album, and the clarity of harmony combined with the beautiful nature of the track list makes for just about a perfect album. With beautiful renditions of “Where the Soul of Man Never Dies”, “Talk about Suffering” and “Bury Me Beneath the Willows” this album is still the reason why I love Ricky Skaggs. Google it, buy it, borrow it, but listen to it in the mornings while you drive. You’ll see what I’m saying, and the world will seem pure and simple, and the mountains will seem rife with tradition and sweetness and faith.

The house at Carnegie Hall was packed! (Thank you Carnegie for finding a place for me!) And there they were, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder with their fearless silver-coiffed leader, and they began with one of my favorites, with its refrain of “Get at ’em boys, go back home, Back to the girl you love, Treat her right, never wrong, How mountain girls can love…”

The next tune, an instrumental, featured the soaring fiddle of Andy Leftwich, whose sound rose high above us, pure as summer into fall, with an exquisitely odd note in the melody that seemed exactly right. On they went, flawlessly working through their set, with a lovely mix of sad songs (“Your Selfish Heart”), kickers such as “Pig in a Pen” and later the musically expeditious “Uncle Pen”, as well as a tribute or two, including an homage to the late, great Doc Watson, “Tennessee Stud”.

A stickler for being in tune (thank you, thank you!), Skaggs spent a good deal of time tuning between songs, but it was always worth it. While he tuned, he talked about his upbringing, his religious faith, his daddy and when he appeared in a dream to his grieving son, and his stories of the road (with a funny tale of Bill Monroe coining the phrase “You can’t hurt ham,” one late night on the tour bus, thus inspiring a memorable song). Skaggs’ banter was filled with down-home sayings, such as “You don’t wanna thump a free melon,” and such.

He touted his book, Kentucky Traveler: My Life in Music, available on his website and elsewhere, talked about touring with Bruce Hornsby, and featured each member of his band, all recording artists in their own right. The current line-up is: the aforementioned Andy Leftwich – fiddle, Cody Kilby – lead guitar, Paul Brewster – rhythm guitar and harmony vocals, Justin Moses – banjo, Mark Fain – bass, and Ed Faris – rhythm guitar and more. My favorite moment was a departure from the bluegrass genre, with a wonderful swingy version of Django Reinhardt’s “Minor Swing”, a slight detour into gypsy swing. (By the way, I’m ecstatic about the booking of The Hot Club of San Francisco as part of Carnegie’s Concert Series in February!).

Oh, yes, and while respectfully ignoring most of the shout-out requests from the audience, he did give in and give us a little of, “Honey, Won’t You Open That Door”, which lightened up the well-planned set list with just a little levity. After a more serious second set, giving the audience so much, they returned for their encore with the ever-familiar bluegrass anthem “Salty Dog”, and willingly stayed to sign autographs and get photos with their fans. As it should be. Anyway, Kentucky Thunder: Great band, great concert, and great hospitality from the staff. So I’ll leave you, singing, “Honey… honey…, honey won’t you open that door? This is your sweet daddy, don’t you love me no more? It’s cold outside, let me sleep on the floor, Honey won’t you open that door?” Not a bad way to spend an evening.

– Susanna Robinson-Kenga, LBSPY #43 (Oct 7-21, 2013)


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