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All Star Bluegrass Celebration
Various Artists
Sugar Hill Records/ LickonaVision/ Rainmaker Productions


You really can't lose with something like this - a real down-home, boots to the floor hootenanny featuring some of the greatest bluegrass and newgrass artists ever to grace the stage at the historic Ryman Auditorium. PBS has a history of putting together some great music television shows, and this is by no means an exception to that rule. To begin with, when you've lined up Ricky Skaggs to host a night of bluegrass music, you can pretty well bet that it's going to be a night of fun and extremely brilliant talent… And it is.

Skaggs kicks off the show with his band, Kentucky Thunder, rolling out a track from his newly released Brand New Strings record. I am simply amazed by the young talent that exists in the world, this teenage mandolin player is superb, and "Shady Grove" is a fine showcase for his talent. Vince Gill makes an appearance with the Del McCoury Band, singing his way through an old gospel standard better than just about any current Nashville cat could. "1952 Vincent Black Lightning" is simply an amazing song, and Del McCoury gives it a new flash of life in his stirring rendition. Alison Krauss makes a brief appearance to play an amazing version of her classic "Let Me Touch You For Awhile" with Union Station wailing away behind her, and a little bit of Jerry Douglas on the dobro never hurt anyone either! And, let me tell you, Alison is one of the most beautiful voices - and women - in contemporary music. An angel with an angelic voice.

Earl Scruggs gives a fine performance of "Foggy Mountain Breakdown", a song that may as well be his own signature piece. Travis Tritt shows he's not just a new country popstar by kicking out an amazing 5-string banjo solo, Vince Gill jumps in on mandolin, the Scruggs boys fly through some smoking guitar solos, and Jerry Douglas chimes in with the dobro. This song alone is worth the entire night of music - One hundred percent pure bluegrass magic. "Passin' Thru" is a cool country tune with a great Scruggs banjo solo, and the thing to note here is that it is only available on the DVD release… the first of three songs not available on the CD - A real good reason to spring for the DVD.

Ralph Stanley was not only in attendance, but made a stellar performance completely on his own. Imagine one man on stage with no instruments, belting out "O Death" in his hauntingly spooky breaking voice. It sends chills up my spine, and Stanley proves again why he is the source of the "high lonesome" sound. The Clinch Mountain Boys play on his two other songs, and it's easy to see Ralph still picks the finest to play in his band. Ricky Skaggs pulls out the stops on a great version of "Uncle Pen", joined by Patty Loveless and Travis Tritt, and backed once again by the amazing talents of Kentucky Thunder. Bruce Hornsby makes an odd appearance, playing his trademark piano, and making an excellent go at "Darlin' Corey", proving again that he is an artist of great merit, able to play anything you can throw at him. Newgrass's brightest young stars Nickel Creek give a beautiful performance of "Seven Wonders" from their This Side record. It is a fantastic performance, uncluttered by the need for the energetic frenzy that they usually possess while playing live.

And then, all stops are loosed, and everyone who has played the evening comes on stage for the grand hootenanny! Three songs of bluegrass madness, led off by the Earl Scruggs magic of "Lonesome Ruben". Then Ralph Stanley sings lead on one of his classic tunes, "Little Maggie" (which I confess is my first memory of hearing Ricky Skaggs play bluegrass), which is a blistering group of solos… A really fine showcase for what bluegrass music is really all about - a group of friends enjoying each other's company and playing their instruments together, the music bonding them into one big family. And ending the night with a killer rendition of "Rawhide" is certainly no bad thing. Sit back and watch the fingers fly on this track! Once again, this is worth the price of admission alone! I guarantee you will find yourself smiling along with everyone that is on that stage.

I suppose you could just get the CD… it has most of the songs, and is definitely worth every moment… I couldn't get it out of my cd player for well over a week. But the real gem is the DVD. Being able to see the songs performed, catching the nuances of posture and the joy in the face of all the players makes the music even more enjoyable. Plus, in addition to the three extra tracks, the DVD includes some behind the scenes footage with the artists, as well as a heart-warming and informative tribute to Bill Monroe, to whom we may really owe everything to when it comes to bluegrass music.

Oh, and you get to actually SEE Alison Krauss! I think I'll watch that song again.

-Embo Blake

Track Listing:

1. Shady Grove - Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
2. Crying Holy (Unto My Lord) - Vince Gill with the Del McCoury Band
3. 1952 Vincent Black Lightning - Del McCoury Band
4. Get Down On Your Knees And Pray - Del McCoury Band
5. Let Me Touch You For Awhile - Alison Krauss & Union Station
6. Foggy Mountain Breakdown - Earl Scruggs
7. Passin' Thru - Earl Scruggs (DVD only)
8. Daniel Prayed - Patty Loveless with Ricky Skaggs
9. Little Georgia Rose - Travis Tritt with Ricky Skaggs
10. Rocky Island - Ralph Stanley (DVD only)
11. Pretty Polly - Ralph Stanley with Patty Loveless
12. O Death - Ralph Stanley
13. Uncle Pen - Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless and Travis Tritt
14. Darlin' Corey - Bruce Hornsby with Ricky Skaggs
15. Seven Wonders - Nickel Creek
16. Lonesome Ruben - Group finale
17. Little Maggie - Group finale (DVD only)
18. Rawhide - Group Finale


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Mike Doughty



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