Saturday, February 25, 2017

Ricky Skaggs at the Appel Room

Ricky Skaggs was born in Cordell, Kentucky, and was five years old when his father gave him a mandolin. At age six, he played mandolin and sang on stage with bluegrass icon Bill Monroe. At age seven, he received his first paycheck playing with bluegrass' legendary Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs on a televised country music variety show. In his teen years, Skaggs was part of a bluegrass trio that performed on radio shows and then became musicians in Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys. Skaggs later joined the Country Gentlemen and J.D. Crowe & the New South, and in 1976 formed progressive bluegrass band Boone Creek. In the late 1970s, Skaggs moved to country music and played mandolin and fiddle in Emmylou Harris & the Hot Band. Skaggs launched his solo career in 1979, subsequently winning 14 Grammy Awards and multiple other honors. He has released 32 studio albums, the most recent being 2014's duet with his wife Sharon White, Hearts Like Ours.

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder performed tonight at Lincoln Center's Appel Room as part of a series entitled American Songbook. As such, the set consisted of songs made famous by the pioneers of bluegrass music, including Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers and Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs. Skaggs also performed a few originals, but they were made to sound as old-timey as the core of the set. Skaggs was a fine tenor, intentionally singing without flash or splash, and his impressive mandolin picking was rapid and precise. The members of Kentucky Thunder (fiddler Mike Barnett, banjoist Russ Carson, lead guitarist Jake Workman, rhythm guitarist Paul Brewster, guitarist Dennis Parker, and bassist Scott Mulvahill) kept up mightily with him. Between songs, Skaggs related historical anecdotes about the trailblazers of bluegrass whom he commemorated with this program. Although the view of a congested Central Park South through the picture windows behind him betrayed him, Skaggs performed like it was an impromptu backyard hootenanny, allowing his fellow musicians to shine as much as he did.

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