Sunday, April 22, 2012

Tribute to Bill Monroe at the Wilbur

We'd been very psyched to hear that Peter Rowan, Tony Rice, and "The Traveling McCourys" would be playing a series of Tribute to Bill Monroe concerts in honor of his 100th birthday and would be stopping by the Wilbur Theater in Boston on Saturday, April 21st.  We got tickets in the third row of the mezzanine and did our "theater district" thing of parking in Sarah's building, walking through the Common (which was packed with Spring revelers on a beautiful, windy day), and eating at Jacob Wirth's beforehand.  Then the concert started and it wasn't that good.

The band was Peter Rowan on guitar and vocals, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin with his brother Rob on banjo and their estimable cohort Jason Carter on fiddle, Jerry McCoury (Del's brother) on bass, and Tony Rice on lead acoustic.  That's about 3.2 of the best musicians in the world, but they had their difficulties:

  • This was the first time I'd ever left a Peter Rowan concert without my head spinning about his vocal abilities.  He sang solidly but did not stretch out his vocal chords.
  • When you have a musician like Tony Rice you sure as hell need to mike him well, which they didn't do.  And you need to give him space to play his searing leads; every time he got warmed up then they'd kick back into a verse like "Oh jeez, we forgot that we're doing a theme show."
  • Actually, the sound of the whole band was lousy; Peter was singing into one of those big mikes designed to be crowded around and when Ronnie did crowd up to it then the sound was bell-like, but those were rare moments.
  • Basically they did not take any risks or do anything original, which meant that this was not a tribute to Bill Monroe, this was a still-life postcard.  Bill would have left.
  • Perhaps practicing would have helped.  They sometimes had no idea who was going to play the next break or how long he was going to play for.  This was not a tight bluegrass band.  At times you had the brothers and Jason huddling in the center of the stage, Tony on the left looking like, "Do you want me to play now?,"  Jerry in the rear doing his best, and Peter shaking his head at them all like, "How did this go so wrong?"

OK, I should stop grousing.  The audience (the Wilbur was 80% full) sure enjoyed it and they had some high spots, like doing Muleskinner for an encore until they forgot how it went after the first couple of verses.  Oh well!


  1. alternate view: :)

  2. Chris, just saw your comment! I'm glad you enjoyed it, it just didn't work for me. - Jon