Brag time. On March 1st, I took my 83-year-old uncle up the road to see Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder in concert at the Orange Blossom Opry. I got two front row and center tickets several months ago. It was a two-hour drive so it was nice to get some quality time with my uncle who apparently grew up just across the river from where Ricky grew up. He was a huge fan of Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs and others back in the day when all they had was the radio and WSM, before the Grand Ole Opry even. Uncle learned the guitar as a youngster and played for years. In the early 60s I think, he acquired a 1943 Martin D18 and boy howdy that thing sounds amazing. I sure was fond of hearing him play it and sing when I was growing up.
A few days before the show, I encouraged him to bring his guitar. “Now why would I do that?” he queried. All I said was “just in case”. He hemmed and hawed about it, saying he didn’t have insurance on it or he didn’t want to lug it around, but I kept on him about it. The day came and I went to pick him up and I asked where his guitar was, and he pointed at it. I told him I was taking my pre-war Gibson too. You know, just in case.
We had a nice drive up and arrived right at 2:30, show time. The house band played for about 40 minutes first and then there’s a break. After a change of hardware on the stage, out come the fellas we were there to see and they jumped right in and knocked out about five tunes in succession with the precision and art one would expect from one of, if not the best band in the world, as @BanjoBen calls them. I got such a kick out of watching my uncle all wide eyed and grinning like a little boy seeing his major league baseball idol for the first time. They kicked off the tune Uncle Pen, which my uncle recognized straight away, and he sang it full throated right along with Ricky not missing a word or a beat. They did several old familiar tunes and a couple new ones. Ricky chatted about his mama and his pop of course. Dennis told his story and indicated that January 25 was four years sober for him and he gave his testimony right then and there.
The entire show was fantastic, as I knew it would be, and my uncle was a tappin’ his foot the whole time. One thing I love about Ricky, and I’ve told him this, is how he supports his guys. He brings in amazing young talent and nurtures them and gives them a literal stage on which to shine. Almost all of them have their own albums and Dennis, Mike and Jake each got to do one of their own songs from their latest album. So cool. I won’t go into all the nuances of the show here, suffice it to say, they were every bit as good or better than last year’s show that I chronicled then. (So I was talking with Ricky Skaggs & Russ Carson last night and)
When the show was over everyone got up to leave, but a few started lining up to get an autograph from Ricky. I told my uncle to just relax and hang out where we were. As the auditorium started to empty, Russ came out on the stage to get something and I got his attention (OK, that’s putting it mildly. I just yelled “Hey Russel”). He turned and smiled, recognized, me I guess. I showed him my hat from last year, which he was first to sign, and it has significantly more signatures now and he laughed. I told him great show and all and I wanted to let him get back to what he was doing but I asked him if he saw Jake, ask him to come out if he’s willing. There was a little space left on the hat for his signature. Dennis came out and gave me a hug and we chatted a bit. I’ve seen him a couple times since last year’s show. I introduced him to my uncle and they got to talking and we just hung out for a while. I mentioned to Dennis that my uncle’s 1943 Martin was in the car and he perked right up and said Jake would want to see that too. I also mentioned my banjo and he pointed at the door and looked at me, implying I should get off my butt and go fetch those instruments and he turned to go fetch Russ.
By the time I got back, they were waiting for me and I just put the cases on stage and handed them out. Here’s the video of what happened next. I have about 20 minutes of video, but I edited it down to about six minutes.
What a treat for the both of us. I tell ya, these guys are class acts. Not only do I believe bluegrass musicians are the best musicians, I can’t imagine musicians in any other genre behaving like this. I mean, they probably just wanted to go relax in the bus for a spell and get some dinner before the next show, but they gave us a nice chunk of their down time. Very generous. I did kinda entice them though, I guess, you know, with shiny baubles.