Another musician with an extensive pedigree knocked off our life list! Ricky Skaggs (two years older than me) rarely makes it up to New England, but he was announced in the great lineup the Cabot Theater in Beverly has featured over the past bit (4/7/17), and we were really psyched to go!
But ... the tickets were *really* expensive, expensive enough to make us say, "Uh, we can do a massive interior redesign for that!" And we sadly opted not to go. But luckily, Cousin Kate at ZBC got a bunch of tickets to give away and I was lucky enough to cop a pair ... I think I had to be the 12th caller for that pair and was able to time it correctly. Lots of people wanted those tickets.
But when we got to the theater, after a *long* struggle through traffic for me and a short walk from the (new) train station for Sarah to dinner at Gulu-Gulu, and a short drive up to the Cabot where we parked on the same side street we'd parked on before, and a climb up to our third-row seats in the balcony (nice seats from ZBC!), we realized that the place was not at all sold out. They should have priced the tickets lower, I bet a lot of people had the same reaction we had to the prices. The balcony was probably a fourth full at most, though what we could see of the orchestra was pretty full.
The Cabot is a fun, mellow place and we grabbed a beer and hung out in the un-crowded balcony, admiring the classic but touched-up theater. I was afraid the speaker stacks on the sides of the stage would not reach the balcony well enough, and it did take them a bit to get the sound right. But they really did and it was a fine evening of music.
Girls Guns and Glory opened and entertained with some great honky-tonk and Ward Hayden soul for an hour. Highlights were The Wine Went Bad and Empty Bottles. They also covered Hank's You Win Again (or is that a Dead song?) and Nick Lowe's What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding? They're an excellent local band and Ward Hayden is the real thing.
Then they reset the stage for a bluegrass show, the crowd filled in a bit, another beer was procured and there was time for us all to get excited ... our neighbor had never seen Ricky before and was as psyched as we were. I first became aware of him as Emmylou's fiddler in the original Hot Band, and was a real fan of him in my most country phase back in the eighties. I was amazed how many of his eighties country vinyl records I have, and I don't often get amazed by my record collection.
Ricky came out with his latest incarnation of the Kentucky Thunder band: long-time members Paul Brewster and Dennis Parker on guitars and EXCELLENT harmonies (and I mean excellent), Jake Workman on amazing lead acoustic guitar, Russ Carson on banjo, Scott Mulvahill on bass, and young Berklee product Mike Barnett on world-class fiddle. Ricky played mandolin of course, and of course out-played them all ... though it was close at times.
Ricky also entertained with some stories and some digs at the guys, also just a few tasteful references to his being saved. And they really played everything you would have hoped they'd play. There were Bill Monroe classics like Rawhide and Wheel Hoss, Flatt and Scruggs classics like If I Should Wander Back Tonight, Jimmy Martin, etc.
But they also did a few of Ricky's hits, including the one song I probably most wanted to hear, his cover of Larry Cordle's Highway 40 Blues. Ricky released this on Highways and Heartaches back in 1983 and I remember listening to it many times, loving the rhythm and the loping style.
Time after time I was caught off guard by the excellence of the harmonies Brewster and Parker were laying down, with Mulvahill contributing a bit on the low end. Ricky had forgotten his in-ear monitors back at the hotel and was using ones he wasn't quite used to, so sometimes didn't go after it the way he might have if he was more comfortable. But Brewster and Parker could have made anyone sound good, and when the lead singer was R. Skaggs the resulting sound was just startlingly good. It was hard to believe that three guys on a stage, not looking like they were working too hard, could make these sounds.
And there was some great work on the strings going on as well. As mentioned, Jake Workman was fantastic, ripping off acrobatic leads on the guitar that had the whole hall whooping and hollering. Barnett was an artistic wonder on fiddle, managing to be cerebral in the middle of a crackerjack bluegrass band, And of course what bluegrass is often about is setting up the star, and when it came time for Ricky's runs on mandolin, the crowd sat forward in their seats and were rewarded over and over with measures of bluegrass goodness.
Ricky wound down with some ballads, including his own, wonderful, Halfway Home Cafe. This could be his entry in the "greatest country song" contest, though I'm sure there will be a lot of entries to come. That's the thing about Skaggs, he's ensconced in the lineage of the greats, and makes you think that there will always be young, hungry stars coming up (Sierra Hull, Sarah Jarosz, etc.) who will be nurtured by the established bluegrass greats and keep the tradition going ... and will add to the canon.
Ran into Cousin Kate herself and Mager on the sidewalk after the show for some quick recapping, and then dashed on home and in bed by a bit after midnight.