Friday, September 18, 2009

Ralph Stanley

We saw Ralph Stanley last weekend at the Cedar Cultural Center, a small venue near our house. He was amazing. He's 82 and announced he'd just been released from the hospital. I might have thought that was a performer stunt but he had the IV bruise on his hand to prove it.

I'm not generally a bluegrass fan, but we discovered Dr. Stanley when O Brother Where Art Thou? came out. He was the voice of the Grand Dragon/Wizard (whatever they call themselves) of the KKK who sang O Death a cappella. (Video here.) He won a Grammy for the song in 2002 for Best Male Country Vocal Performance. Age and infirmity only make him sound more compelling (and by that I mean chilling) when he sings this.

Before Saturday's show began, as I was looking around the room and taking in the crowd, I felt like I do at the dog training club: "these are not quite my people". That was confirmed during the show when Dr. Stanley made a joke formatted thusly: "...made me as uncomfortable as Karl Rove at a [somebody] concert." The room erupted wildly. Everyone but us knew who the somebody is and what somebody's political leanings are.

His band was completely amazing. It included a fiddle, lead guitar, banjo, rhythm guitar played by his 17 year old grandson, and a bass. Each were incredibly skilled and together they were tight. Watching them live really gives you appreciation for how difficult what they're doing is. You can see brows furrow and jaws clench through difficult passages and that helps you note the coordination and dexterity (and years of practice) required to execute what they're playing. If you search on youtube for Ralph Stanley, you'll find lots of footage of him.

I'm sorry to not be able to connect this to bacon. Bacon, we had a good run.

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