Ricky Scaggs: Bluegrass music is always in style

November 21, 2002|by KEVIN CLAPP

In bluegrass country there are Gods, there are upstarts.

And then there is Ricky Skaggs.

At 48, the musician straddles both sides of the continuum.

He's old enough to remember playing with Bill Monroe as a six-year-old, young enough to serve as mentor to a new generation of bluegrass musicians and fans.

"I feel like I'm standing in the middle of a chasm where I can reach back. ... But yet I can on the right hand can have relationships with Nickel Creek, Alison (Krauss) and all the newer groups that are out there today. It's a good place to stand," Skaggs said earlier this week during a phone interview from Tennessee. "It's good to have someone in the mix that understands the new but understands the old as well."


Friday night, Skaggs will bridge the bluegrass divide for an audience at The Maryland Theatre.

Gaining fame on the country charts during the 1980s and early '90s, Skaggs retreated in 1997 from the mainstream scene to refocus his efforts on his first love, a style of music that never seems to go out of vogue.

Besides, it's not like he totally ignored his bluegrass roots. Even his popular hits - and he's scored 11 No. 1 singles in his career - give folks some flavorings of the music. "So people could bite down and chew it and maybe get to like it," he said.

And thanks to the success of the "O Brother, Where Art Thou?," soundtrack to the 2000 film, bluegrass is experiencing a commercial renaissance. Young trio Nickel Creek is a fixture on country radio, as is Alison Krauss and Union Station.

On the one hand, the form's resurgence is surprising Skaggs as not just fans but artists hop aboard the bluegrass express.

"On the other hand I'm not surprised because musically, when you listen to what's out there and what's offered on the radio it's like a buffet," he said.

You sample several choices, reject those less palatable and pile on what make tastes twinkle.

"You can sit and savor it forever and I think that's one of the pleasing things about bluegrass music. It doesn't have to change with the times," he said. "It's never had to have breast implants or tummy tucks or belly button rings to make it cool."

Coinciding with his break from mainstream country to create his own label, Skaggs Family Records, he can experiment and make the music he has loved since childhood.

Earlier this year he recorded an all-star tribute to Bill Monroe, who along with Earl Scruggs and Ralph Stanley are the founding fathers of bluegrass.

Then not too long ago he and his band, Kentucky Thunder, traveled to Charleston, S.C., recording a concert for his second live album and first since 1985's "Live in London."

Finally, Skaggs is immersed in songwriting duties for a Disney soundtrack due in 2005.

His plate is full, sure, but he still finds time to hit the road. The rigors of traveling from town to town wear on him more than they did 20 years ago, but it's worth it to feed off the energy of a live audience.

And whereas live shows just after he rededicated himself to bluegrass were peppered with requests for his mainstream hits, these days more recent bluegrass favorites are being shouted out.

It's a good feeling.

"I still enjoy the music, I still enjoy playing, I still enjoy performing for the audience," Skaggs said. "Especially these days when people are believing the things we've always believe in, that bluegrass is cool."

Ricky Skaggs

8 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 22

The Maryland Theatre

21 S. Potomac St.


Tickets cost $28 and $32, plus service charge.

For tickets or information, call 301-790-2000.

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