I’ve been lucky. Lucky enough to see Ricky Skaggs play live more than once, but I’ve never had to review an entire show before now. I knew I had my work cut out for me. If you’re a Skaggs fan, you already know what I’m talking about. Is he a man or a machine? I would almost say he’s a machine until he speaks and then it’s a dead giveaway that he’s as human as human gets. In fact, many of today’s artists could take a lesson from Skaggs on how to be an artist, yet maintain a sense of humility and gratefulness.
I did my homework before I went to see Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder at The Ryman Auditorium on July 26, 2018. I dug deep. How did Skaggs get started in music? How did his career evolve and what is he up to right now? The best thing about doing research on Ricky Skaggs? Not a scandal in sight. There have been some tragic events, but as for Skaggs himself and his character? As far as the internet goes, even the “fake news” isn’t picking on him. I’d say that’s a pretty big testament to what he’s all about. An extremely hard-working guy who keeps his record clean. That’s refreshing.
Skaggs began playing the mandolin at the age of five. His father taught him three chords, G, C and D. Within a week, young Ricky Skaggs had taught himself to change chords and sing along to the music.
By age six he was just about pushed on to a stage by members of an enthusiastic audience in Martha, Kentucky, where the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, was playing. They refused to let up with their requests to have “Little Ricky Skaggs” brought up on stage until Monroe agreed. Monroe took his own mandolin and strapped it on the six year-old’s small frame and that child began to pick his way into the heart of everyone there, including Monroe himself.
Flatt & Scruggs had seven-year old Skaggs on their syndicated television show where he grabbed his very first paycheck for playing music and so began his professional career. At least for the moment.
It was 1971 when his really big break came along. Skaggs and friend, Keith Whitley were invited to join Ralph Stanley’s band, the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Video courtesy of YouTube and dahliacorona
Bluegrass was his wheelhouse up until the late 1970’s when Skaggs switched gears and jumped into country music, playing with Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band and later he began his own solo recording artist career.
It was at this point that the numbers game started racking up. In 1981, Skaggs released Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine which reached the top of the country charts and remained there for most of the 1980’s with an incredible 12 number ones.
In 1982, Skaggs became a member of the Grand Ole Opry. At that time, he was the youngest member to be inducted.
Photo courtesy of Ricky Skaggs and Grand Ole Opry
The year 1985 was huge. Skaggs was named CMA Entertainer of the Year. He also took home the CMA Instrumental Group of the Year award for the Ricky Skaggs Band and the ACM Touring Band of the Year award for the Ricky Skaggs Band.
All in all, the 80’s were good to Skaggs with three Grammy awards, not to mention numerous other industry awards.
The 1990’s brought Skaggs back to his bluegrass roots after much success in mainstream country. In 1997, when his record contract was nearly ending, he started his own label, Skaggs Family Records. Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, the band he is currently still playing with, have released 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated records (eight of which took home the coveted prize). Skaggs Family Records have worked with many artists (all bluegrass or other roots-type music) including The Del McCoury Band, The Whites, Keith Sewell and Cadillac Sky.
Skaggs’s very first release on Skaggs Family Records earned him his sixth Grammy award in 1999. The album was Bluegrass Rules! and not only did it pull in a Grammy, it netted him the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Album of the Year award. In 2000, he won a Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album with Ancient Tones, and a year later, he won his eighth Grammy for Best Southern Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album for Soldier of the Cross, Skaggs’s first-ever, all-gospel record. The awards were piling up.
Throughout the 2000’s Skaggs earned awards for compilation projects and a live album, Live at the Charleston Music Hall. The live album led to an IBMA award for Instrumental Group of the Year, an award Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder has brought home a total of eight times in ten years! That’s impressive.
In the Fall of 2018, Ricky Skaggs was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame as a member of the Class of 2018. This is one of the highest honors an artist can ever receive and one that Skaggs knows is huge. He credits his father for putting the spark in him that created his lifelong love of music.
Photo courtesy of WSMV
I can only say that I have given you the absolute bare bones backstory on Ricky Skaggs. I pared it down to nearly nothing compared to what I spent an entire day reading. This man’s career is nothing short of fascinating and the things he has accomplished and continues to accomplish will bend your mind. That’s just what you can read about. Then you go see him play…
Two words. Nashville traffic. It was a miracle that we made it to The Ryman at EXACTLY 7:30 PM which was showtime. I still had to pick up the tickets and find my seat and I was in desperate need of a soda. It was a really hot, humid day and we hustled from the parking garage to the venue. Thankfully, the concession lines were non-existent at that point because everyone else was already inside the theater. We also got lucky because the band had not yet started to play. Host Eddie Stubbs of WSM-650 AM radio was still introducing Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder when we entered the theater.
I caught the very end of Stubbs’s introduction, but I got the gist of it. He was saying something about Ricky Skaggs being a champion for preserving traditional country music or roots type music, such as bluegrass and how much Nashville owes him for his efforts. I would agree with that. There’s room for all forms of country music, old and new, but never should the foundation of the genre be lost.
Once Stubbs stepped aside to let Skaggs and the band do their thing, Skaggs said, “You make it hard on a guy. We better not mess up boys. We’re just gonna have the best time I’ve ever had on this stage tonight. Let’s go!” They then broke into their opening number, 1999’s “How Mountain Girls Can Love”.
In my pre-show research, I found some old black and white video of “Little Ricky Skaggs” playing mandolin, and from time to time throughout the show at The Ryman, I would find myself imagining Ricky Skaggs today as that young boy, picking away. Honestly, it wasn’t that hard to do. His facial features are much the same and for such a small kid, he was really good. One of those moments came when Skaggs said, “Here’s a tear jerker” and the audience gave out a collective sigh. Skaggs responded by saying, “Aww… it’s not my fault, it’s The Stanley Brothers’ fault. I didn’t write it.” The band then played “Your Selfish Heart”. Despite that big old heavy sigh, the audience seemed to enjoy the song in the end.
Video courtesy of YouTube and Archie Shaw
Now might be a good time to give credit to Kentucky Thunder band members. These guys aren’t just musicians. These are true artists. One can’t even single one out over the others as to who might be best because they’re all over their respective games and can often move from one instrument to another without blinking an eye. These are the cream of the crop and watching and listening to them play is, at times, a bit like sensory overload. Kind of like you need a nap after a particularly intense number.
Kentucky Thunder is made up of Paul Brewster on tenor vocals and rhythm guitar, Russ Carson, banjo, Jake Workman, lead guitar, Mike Barnett, fiddle, Dennis Parker, baritone vocals and guitar and Jeff Picker, bassist and bass vocals. Don’t let this short list fool you though, these guys tend to shuffle around now and then. Sometimes picking up a different instrument or jumping in on vocals. These are no one-trick ponies. They wear many hats and that’s what makes them so spellbinding to see.
A really sweet moment happened when Skaggs acknowledged a couple sitting up in the balcony who were celebrating their 71st wedding anniversary. The band played “I Wouldn’t Change You If I Could” and the harmonies were so beautiful. It was the perfect song for an anniversary that so few people will ever reach and to have Skaggs not only point out this couple, but spend a little bit of time talking about it, says quite a bit about what’s important to him in life.
Skaggs took a few minutes to talk about his father while tuning his instrument. He joked that his Dad didn’t have much patience for tuning. “He had patience for shootin’ groundhogs.” He then went on to say that his Dad was “a measure twice, cut once fella. Old Kentucky horse sense.” When Skaggs would ask him why he measured twice, his Dad would say, “Son. If she’s a little long, you can cut a little off of it.” Skaggs continued, “Then he’d just look at me like, ‘Think about it.’” A slight pause and then, “Son. You can’t make it grow back on there.” The entire evening was sprinkled with this type of intimate “conversation”, albeit fairly one-sided, but it truly makes a Ricky Skaggs concert seem more like a songwriter-type show than just your typical concert. He really engages with his audience.
He wasn’t done chatting about his father at that point either. He went on to say that he never knew anyone who loved music more than his Dad and how his Dad used to like listening to Conway Twitty. Well, until the day his Dad said, “I liked old Conway ‘til the day he laid her down.” “Dad!” “He did the lay me down. I was done with him when he laid her down.” The crowd roared.
Video courtesy of YouTube and W103WWRW
Obviously, the elder Skaggs was referring to Conway Twitty’s 1980 song, “I’d Love to Lay You Down”. In Twitty’s defense, at least he didn’t write it, that credit goes to Johnny MacRae, but he did choose to record and produce it, so there’s that. Not a bad decision for Twitty because it did hit number one on the Billboard Hot Country chart, but he sure did lose a fan in Mr. Hobert Skaggs. Needless to say, it was some enjoyable little side trivia in between songs.
The Skaggs family history break was over and it was back to the music. This time it was “Blue Night”, which Skaggs said he was certain was performed before on The Ryman stage. He knew for sure that Bill Monroe recorded it and he was pretty sure Kirk McGee had written it. You know what? Skaggs knows his stuff. I looked it up. It was actually Sam and Kirk McGee who penned “Blue Night”. My notes from this song simply say, “These musicians don’t quit.” That should sum it up.
It was time for another “Storytime with Ricky Skaggs” and this one was one for the books! If you were there, you won’t forget this and I will just bet you if you’re actually taking the time to read this review, THIS will be the one part you will remember and might tell someone else about. It’s just that good.
The story began when Skaggs brought out a really beautiful guitar. He played a little something and said, “Wrong key.” He mentioned that he was really happy to have that particular guitar. It was built by a guy from the middle of nowhere Virginia by the name of Wayne Henderson. It turns out Henderson makes some pretty amazing guitars, often for some very high-profile players, but there’s one problem, there are a lot of heavy hitters looking for Wayne Henderson guitars, but alas, there is only ONE Wayne Henderson.
Case in point, the day Eric Clapton had the chance to play a Wayne Henderson guitar and fell in love with it. Skaggs told the story best. “Clapton called Wayne Henderson. ‘You build guitars?’ ‘Yeah? Well, what you want?’ ‘I want one of your guitars. I want you to build me one. When? Four years? Four years?!’ ‘Well, I ain’t too big an operation in Virginia. I’ll put you on the list.’”
That’s how the phone conversation went. This is how the conversation went after someone asked Henderson who was on the phone.
“Some fella named Eric. Some guitar player.”
Skaggs said he “felt blessed to have slid under the wire” and was proud to be playing a Wayne Henderson guitar. I guess so! I found myself entranced with Henderson’s work for a couple of hours after hearing this story. I’m sure many guitar players are familiar with him, but if you aren’t, do look him up. He’s an interesting person and his craftsmanship is unbelievable. It’s no wonder the best guitarists in the world are willing to wait for one of his pieces of artistry.
Video courtesy of YouTube and JoshLovesIt
Ricky Skaggs managed to get that beautiful guitar in the right key while he was chatting and then he mentioned while his father gave him his love for music, it was his mother who gave him his love for Jesus and he felt in order to be a songwriter you have to have both because “creativity is a hymn”. He then told a story about a time he walked in on his mother praying for her kids and her husband and “it was such a beautiful thing.”
The first time Skaggs heard the Flatt & Scruggs song “I Heard My Mother Call My Name in Prayer” he thought, “that happened to me”. I think you know that’s the song the band played next and the harmonies were simply gorgeous. The emotion on Skaggs’s face says everything. This song brings him back to one of the most special moments of his life.
A brief intermission followed, but not before Skaggs asked the audience if they would be receptive to the band switching from bluegrass to country when they returned from the break. Loud applause and whistles gave the crowd’s approval. The band broke into a lightning fast instrumental just before emcee Eddie Stubbs came out to announce the intermission and, of course, to make mention of the ever-present merch tables on both levels of The Ryman. Here at Think Country, we always encourage fans to support artists by purchasing official merchandise at the venue. Never trust offsite vendors for quality and proceeds will not benefit the artists, so I stand with Eddie Stubbs and his merch plug.
After the break, the band looked a little different. It seems a drum kit, piano, steel guitar and an accordion rolled in. These instruments, along with Skaggs on his Wayne Henderson guitar and a few other assorted musicians made this one very full band. Were they ready to utilize all of this equipment? Oh, you bet. First up was the old Flatt & Scruggs tune “Crying My Heart Out Over You” that Skaggs rerecorded in 1982 and took to number one. The fans in The Ryman were happy to hear it and were singing along.
Wait a minute though, if the fans were excited about “Crying My Heart Out Over You”, it was this number that really got their blood pumping. Skaggs, on electric guitar now, jumped into the always lively, “Heartbroke”. This song, widely thought to be a Skaggs original, was actually written by the late Guy Clark and first recorded by Rodney Crowell in 1980 as an album cut. It was Skaggs, however, that saw major success with the song, which would explain why many have no idea it’s actually a cover. I would definitely say “Heartbroke” was a high point of the evening. I don’t think there were many people in the house not singing along.
Video courtesy of YouTube and Patti McClintic
Still wielding that electric guitar, Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder kept the momentum going with “Honey (Open That Door)”. Paul Brewster’s vocals added so much and the harmonizing that goes on in this band is perfection. Bonus points for masterful piano playing on this number.
It was quite apparent that “Highway 40 Blues” from 1983’s Highways & Heartaches album was a fan favorite. The enthusiasm level was high. Just add this song to Skaggs’s long list of number one hits. This man is one of the greats and a monster overachiever in the best of ways. What impressed me most was even these songs that were such big hits weren’t performed with a “setlist mentality”. They were played so tight and with such passion, you would swear they were brand new singles, hot off the press to be promoted. One can only imagine how many times Skaggs has played them in his storied career. If he’s bored with them, he absolutely fooled me.
I don’t know about everyone, but the minute Skaggs announced they were going to play some country music, I was on the edge of my seat waiting for it. Well, thank you Mr. Skaggs, you didn’t disappoint me. “Probably the most requested song we don’t do normally. We’re gonna do it tonight”, announced Skaggs. The very second he uttered that last word, the band blasted into a whiplash-inducing quick intro to “Country Boy”. This may be the most recognizable Ricky Skaggs song of all. Even to those completely unfamiliar with his music, there’s a halfway decent chance they might have heard this one somewhere along the way.
“Country Boy”, released in 1985 was yet another number one hit for Skaggs, but what really made it memorable was the video for it. Famous folks like the Father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, former New York City Mayor, Ed Koch and actor Patrick Swayze appeared in the video along with Skaggs himself. The video was nominated for a CMA Music Video of the Year award in 1985, but lost out to the Hank Williams, Jr. video for “All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight”.
Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder all but destroyed that Ryman stage with this song. Never let it be said that country music or bluegrass musicians aren’t rock stars. They most certainly are. They bust out moves never seen before every time they pick up their instruments and they burn more calories playing a single song than most people do working out on a treadmill for a half hour.
What’s interesting, and rather sad, is how well this song holds up today, and even though the video is still great to watch, it occurred to me that most of the main players are no longer with us. It entered my mind that maybe that’s why the song is rarely played when requested, but honestly, I don’t know the reason. I’m just really grateful I was able to see it performed live. Yes, it’s kind of a silly song, but when you pair it up with the musicians I saw on that stage on that night, it turned into something downright brilliant. I hope the band had as much fun playing the song as I did watching and listening to it.
Video courtesy of YouTube and Ricky Skaggs VEVO
Video courtesy of YouTube and Patti McClintic
Joy. You know it when you feel it, but can you read it on someone else’s face? I think sometimes you can. Pure joy, the kind where you are so lost in it that time is just about standing still. I’ve experienced that kind of pure joy very few times in my life, but I think I understand it. I think I saw that kind of pure joy on Ricky Skaggs’s face when he brought up a group of guest musicians to join the rest of the band in playing some of his father-in-law, Buck White’s songs on mandolins.
Before bringing these mandolin players out, however, Skaggs talked about how White taught him patience, how White lived in a house with four daughters, a wife and one bathroom! He spoke of how White was now living in the Skaggs home and “there’s a lot of show tunes, a lot of mandolin playin’ and we LOVE it!”
It was mandolins for days on that stage. For several numbers there were seven mandolins up there. Seven mandolins plus a banjo, guitars, an upright bass, a steel guitar and an accordion. This was one of the craziest jam sessions I’ve ever seen at The Ryman. Oh, and let’s not forget that from time to time there was a drummer, a fiddler and a piano player jumping in too. Yes, pure chaos. If you’re a music lover, it was chaos you could easily thrive on. I would have stayed all night watching this musical madness. Bravo to the decision to bring in the guest musicians and just let everyone have at it.
Some of the songs that were played during this “Buck White Mandolin-o-thon” were “Down Home Waltz”, “Old Man Baker”, one that White wrote with fiddle player, Kenny Baker of Bill Monroe’s band in mind, and “Buck’s Run”, and I think at least one of those mandolin players would have demolished a speedometer if he’d been clocked on the speed of his mandolin playing during that one. Fantastic.
Back to that joy. I was watching Ricky Skaggs’s face pretty closely during this jam session. I’m positive I not only saw complete joy on his face, but I could almost feel it radiating from him throughout the entire auditorium. To be able to share the stage with so many talented musicians, knowing his father-in-law, a man he so admires and appreciates, was watching from his seat in The Ryman, it seemed as though Skaggs’s heart might burst right out of his chest with joy. Again, I’m just guessing here, but I think I’m closer to right than wrong. He looked really, really happy. That’s pure joy and it was spreading all over that stage and all over The Ryman.
I felt a lot more joyful myself following those songs. That’s the power of music, but more than that, that’s the power of someone who believes music is something to be shared because its power just grows exponentially when we play it or listen to it together. It’s a medium that works perfectly when you’re alone sometimes, but when it’s time to use it with others, it’s absolutely grand.
I need to pause for a moment to mention something that was distracting me all night long. Russ Carson’s banjo. This thing GLEAMS. The outer rim is gold and every time he turned a certain way it sparkled and shone so brilliantly, I couldn’t look away. I’m pretty sure that banjo is an instrument of hypnosis. Thankfully, he would have to move again, so just as I was starting to “go under”, I’d snap out of it and I’d be back with the real world again. Be careful though. If you see him playing that thing where he can be a little more sedentary, close your eyes or stare at the floor or something. That banjo is a work of art, but I think it has superpowers.
“There’s so much talent on this stage. I love this song and I have to hear Dennis sing it”, said Skaggs. From the opening note, I knew I also loved the song. “Carolina In My Mind”, the James Taylor song, that I consider one of my personal all-time favorites and don’t necessarily want to hear covered, was sung AS WELL AS JAMES TAYLOR by Dennis Parker. Yes. You read that right. I was so impressed by his version that I can easily say I love it just as much as Taylor’s original. That’s not something I say often, maybe not ever. I was lucky enough to capture some of it on video and I’ve already watched it several times. I don’t know if anyone else will agree with me, but I think giving Parker this moment in the spotlight and this particular song was one of the best decisions of the evening. Extra credit to the rest of the guys for the exquisite harmonies.
Video courtesy of YouTube and Patti McClintic
When Skaggs told the audience they were going to perform a song from their CD Mosaic, someone shouted out as a sign of approval, to which Skaggs replied, “Oh, good, we sold like two or three.” Obviously, he was just kidding, but the album didn’t move on the charts like just about everything else Skaggs has ever done. Here’s some irony for you though, when the band was about halfway through “Can’t Shake Jesus”, I found myself thinking that this was one of the coolest songs I’d heard in quite a while. Seriously.
This was a song of FAITH? Yes, well, when I listened carefully to the lyrics, it definitely was. If they had been playing this kind of music in church when I was younger, maybe I would have kept on going. This song had a bit of a modern rock groove to it. The drums alone were worth listening to this song and again, those harmonies! Whoever that guy was that hollered out that he was excited to hear something from Mosaic, I totally understood why. I haven’t heard the rest of the record, but if this was the song he was hoping for, I’m definitely in his tribe.
Fiddle player Mike Barnett got his big moment when he was given the chance to play a song from his new album, Portraits in Fiddles. The song, “Old Barnes” really showcased his skills on the fiddle and at one time, I even wrote in my notes, “He plays it like he’s trying to kill it.” Looking back on it, I believe that statement to be very accurate. Everything about that performance was like witnessing a circa 1970’s rock band destroying a hotel room with instruments, only this time they were fully in tune and playing something that made perfect sense while the life was being beaten out of them. God, I love music.
Right before I get to this next part, which is actually very near the end of this review, I have to make a confession. You’ll find that fitting once I get to the next part anyway, confessions, being honest, getting right with yourself and your higher power, it’ll all fit.
I have been working on this review for a week now. No. Lying. I have been TRYING to work on this review for a week now. Life has been getting in the way and that’s not how I usually operate. I am not generally a “week after the show” reviewer. I’m not making any excuses. I’m apologizing. It is now exactly 4:48 AM a week and a day after the show. That is entirely unacceptable to me. I started writing this promptly after the show and I slacked, and for that, I need to repent or go to writer jail or something. Give me some crummy shows for a while. This Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder show was like the crowned jewel of recent shows and I dropped the ball.
So, I’m staying up until this is complete and published. I just wanted to come clean. I’ll be better next time Think Country fans. Yes, life did get in the way, but I could have done better at pushing some of that life aside to get this done. I feel better now. Moving on. Let’s go to church! In fact, let’s go to THE MOTHER CHURCH!
Since I’ve been going to concerts (my first one was Electric Light Orchestra in 1978 at Buffalo’s Memorial Auditorium, there’s your random useless trivia about me for this piece), and I’ve gone to a lot of them, I have seen enough encores to talk about encores for days. Good ones, bad ones, long ones, short ones, confusing ones (“They’re playing THAT?”), you get the idea. Never before have I seen one like the one I saw on June 26, 2018 at The Ryman Auditorium.
Photo courtesy of Patti McClintic
The house lights went off. One spotlight came on in the center of the stage. Ricky Skaggs, along with his wife, Sharon White and her sister, Cheryl White walked out underneath that spotlight. Skaggs explained that The Ryman Auditorium had recently celebrated its 175th Anniversary and he thought it would be wonderful if everyone would stand up and join him and The Whites in singing some of the original hymns that were sung in that building when it was first built as the Union Gospel Tabernacle in 1892.
Video courtesy of YouTube, The Official 700 Club and CBN.com
I’m not sure how this would have gone up north, but in the south, as I looked around, it seemed everyone knew every word to each of these gospel songs. They don’t call it the Bible Belt for nothing. I have to tell you, this was one of the most strikingly divine scenes and I can’t adequately describe it. I tried to take video, but it was simply too dark to capture anything worth looking at. If you’ve been in The Ryman, you know the configuration. Imagine it in darkness, with just enough light to cast a soft glow over a full house of people, all standing and singing together. No instruments to accompany them. Just voices. Ricky Skaggs and The Whites on stage with one small spotlight shining on them as they lead this mass “congregation” in song.
It was something I will probably never see again. It was almost as though the spirits of those very first worshippers to grace those hallowed halls were standing right beside us, watching and singing along. They say you can feel the ghosts of country stars like Hank Williams and Patsy Cline within the walls of The Ryman. On that night, in that small slice of time, it wasn’t ghostly musicians I was feeling. It was regular people, just like myself. It was eerily welcoming and I wanted it to go on forever. I don’t know if I can ever thank Ricky Skaggs and The Whites for allowing me to experience that. It was so very unique and really moving to see The Ryman a little bit as it was in its infancy. Wow.
How do you follow something like that? Like this. You have Ricky Skaggs do a little storytelling again to start off. He brought the whole band back out on stage and proceeded to talk about the late Bill Monroe’s funeral and how a gospel song was played at the end. Skaggs and Marty Stuart got to talking before the funeral wrapped up and decided they couldn’t send him off on a sad gospel song. “We’re gonna rip it up. We’re gonna tear it up! This is what we played.” The sell-out crowd at The Ryman then got to hear exactly what Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass, got to hear before he was laid to rest, “Rawhide”, and I have to wonder if anyone on that stage needed a chiropractor the next day, that was one mean music machine up there.
How do I wrap this up with a neat little bow for those too lazy to have read the whole thing? I know about you “skip-to-the-end-and-said-you-read-it” people, don’t think you’re all covert and everything, it’s alright. This isn’t for everybody, but when you come to your senses, read my stuff first. JUST kidding.
I guess I can only say there are so many shows in Nashville EVERY SINGLE DAY and we obviously can’t get to all of them, but I think what matters most is quality. A new artist who just moved to town last week and nobody knows him, could be playing to the bartender, a drunk guy at the end of the bar and me and he might be the biggest surprise ever. As long as he plays to that empty room like he’s playing Bridgestone and he’s giving it all he’s got, I’m going to be impressed.
I can go to Bridgestone, pay what equals a car payment for a ticket in the nosebleeds to “see” a huge artist that could be anyone (thanks to big screens I can be sure it really is the artist I paid to see, otherwise I’d never know) who might end up sounding way off. That artist might then blame his sounding bad on the sound guy, who would then blame the equipment, and the blame game would keep rolling downhill.
When you get lucky and you are invited to review someone as legendary as Ricky Skaggs at The Ryman and that show has every item on your mental checklist marked off and you can add a big star next to it, you’ve had a good day. That’s how I felt after this show. Main artist was completely on point. Musicianship, audience engagement, appearance, delivery, song choices, personality, all checks.
Band? If any of these guys ever left Kentucky Thunder, they would have so many job offers coming at them they wouldn’t know what to do. Best musicians in town and put together? This isn’t trickery people, this is ARTISTRY.
Show in general? I’m imagining one of those people that can work a Rubik’s Cube in 30 seconds. You know how they just flip it around really fast? A little back and forth a couple of times and then they slap it down on the table and give you that look? You know the look. The “What do you want me to do that you think I can’t do next?” look. That’s how this show went for me. Like a 30 second Rubik’s Cube solver. Flip, back and forth, back and forth, flip, slap, done. Whoever put it together knew what they were doing so well they EARNED the right to give us “the look”. The songs flowed well. Enough fast ones, enough slow ones, a GREAT amount of personal storytelling from Ricky Skaggs, guest musicians, an INTERMISSION (more shows need these), all of it. Check marks for everything. Big gold stars too.
Is Ricky Skaggs heading to your town? Go check. rickyskaggs.com I’ll wait… I don’t care if you need to drive a little out of your way. It’ll be worth it. I can’t promise you that you’re going to have a Ryman Auditorium type experience, but I can promise you the show is going to knock your socks off and you will be so glad you went. Oh, you say none of your friends like country or bluegrass? I gotcha. Take your rocker friend. Guess what? I’m your rocker friend too. I can tell you that Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will impress even your hardest rocker friends. Playing those mandolins and those guitars and even those FIDDLES at speeds that break the sound barrier ain’t for the faint of heart.
Ricky Skaggs can be found:
*Review edited August 14, 2018. Thank you to Mike Lonas for pointing out an error in the previous version.