HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. — Labor Day weekend marked 39 years since a 13-year-old kid from Philadelphia, Miss., went on the road with bluegrass legend Lester Flatt.
Nearly four decades later, as his bus drives into Arkansas ahead of an appearance at the World Championship Chuckwagon Races in Clinton, Marty Stuart nonchalantly rattles off the events leading up to his odyssey into the music business.
“I had been out on the circuit in the summer of 1972 playing with a gospel bluegrass band in our area and I befriended one of Lester’s band members,” Stuart recalled during a telephone interview, “and he just said casually, ‘Sometime you oughta come to Nashville (Tenn.) and ride along with us,’ and so I took him up on it, and it turned into a job.”
Stuart’s career will take him to Hedgesville, W.Va., on Sunday, Sept. 11, for Pickin’ in the Panhandle. Stuart’s 4 p.m. show on the main stage winds down the three-day barbecue and bluegrass festival. Pickin’ in the Panhandle gets under way at 4 p.m. Friday.
In his career, less than 10 years after joining Flatt, Stuart found himself playing with another legend, Johnny Cash. Again, Stuart tells the story of this pairing with little fanfare.
“A buddy of mine was building a guitar for (Cash). (Flatt) had just passed away and I needed a job,” Stuart explained. “And I kept up with the progress of the guitar with the understanding that, ‘Hey when you take that guitar to Johnny Cash, I wanna go with you.’ So that’s how that worked. We hit it off immediately. (Cash) kept shaking my hand and saying, ‘Where’ve you been?’ and I said, ‘Gettin’ ready,” and he said, ‘Well, OK,’ and out of the blue came a call (to join Cash’s band).”
Stuart described the relationship between him and his former father-in-law (Stuart was married to Cash’s daughter, Cindy Cash) as, “divinely ordered,” and noted that his Pickin’ appearance will be the day before the eighth anniversary of Cash’s death.
“(His death) hit me at every level,” Stuart said. “He was a mentor, my pal, my old bandleader, my ex-father-in-law, next door neighbor ... so when he took off, he left a big ole’ hole.”
Stuart might be known as much for his music as he is for the flamboyant Nudie-brand suits he wears while performing. He says that his style is a nod to old-school country stars.
“When I first started making records on my own, country music videos were just becoming the new thing and I noticed that I would watch those videos and they didn’t quite have the visual appeal to me that, say, ‘The Porter Wagoner Show,’ some of those old country shows (did),” he said. “When I was a kid watching TV, half of those country-music programs was the visual aspect of it. It was pretty, and it was Hillbilly Hollywood. And that’s when I started buying up a lot of those old suits and kind of honor that and it made our videos kind of pop a little bit.”
In addition to touring, writing, recording and producing, he, his wife, country singer Connie Smith, and his band, the Fabulous Superlatives, star on “The Marty Stuart Show,” a weekly country-music show airing on the RFD Network.
“We start taping in December, take January off, and finish up in February,” Stuart said. “It’s an intense time. We tape four shows a week when we’re in the middle of it. It looks so seamless and so easy when I watch it back... (But) it requires a lot of focus.”
And focusing on entertaining at this weekend’s show is just what Stuart says he is going to do.
“Me and the Fabulous Superlatives have it in our mind to light up the sky in ... West Virginia. We’re gonna play old songs, new songs ...,” he said, “We’re about to go back to the recording studio so I’m sure we’ll play some songs we’re about to take to the studios and some old favorites. I promise you it will be a good night.”
If you go ...
WHAT: Pickin’ in the Panhandle
WHEN: Friday, Sept. 9, through Sunday, Sept. 11
WHERE: Lazy A Campground, 317 Kathy’s Lane, Hedgesville, W.Va.
COST: $50 for a weekend pass; $25 for a one-day pass; free for children ages 12 and younger
CONTACT: Go to www.panhandlepickin.com, or go to the Martinsburg-Berkeley County Convention & Visitors Bureau office at 115 N. Queen St. in downtown Martinsburg, W.Va.
MORE: Campsites are available; contact the CVB for more details. Lineup includes Marty Stuart, Dixie Bee-Liners, Confederate Railroad, Danny Paisley and The Southern Grass, Back Creek Valley Boys, Trent Tomlinson and others. Plus a professional and backyard barbecue cook-off, music contests, arts and crafts, food and beer garden. The event will be held rain or shine, and no refunds will be given.