AKUS & Tony Rice on tour – a review

Tony Rice with Alison Krauss & Union StationBrance and I had the good fortune to attend last night’s concert in Salem, VA by Tony Rice with Alison Krauss & Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas. That’s a long name for a concert bill, but with the stature of the various artists slated to perform, what else could you call it?

Their two hour set was every bit as stellar as the pairing of these two groundbreaking acts would suggest. We missed the first three songs due to a problem with our tickets, but even from the lobby, we could feel the excitement in the auditorium from the first note that was struck.

As we have outlined in previous posts, the concept for this tour was to have Tony on stage with AKUS, on a show whose material was drawn exclusively from the vast Rice recorded repertoire. The only Alison song was Let Me Touch You For Awhile, and she introduced the song as one she had thought that Tony might have chosen for himself to sing back in the day.

The song selection drew from the various segments of Tony’s recording career. The early days (The New South era) were represented with Freeborn Man, I’m Walking, and Summer Wages, the first two sung by Dan Tyminski, and the last by Ms. Krauss. I Was Born To Be With You was also featured, sung as a trio throughout.

The Manzanita album was represented by Ginseng Sullivan and Manzanita – which featured an heretical banjo break!

Church Street Blues was included from the album by the same name, along with The Streets Of London and Any Old Time. The first two were performed by Dan and Alison respectively with only Tony’s guitar accompaniment, a la the original recording. Any Old Time, however, was done with the full band and Krauss in soaring voice, quite reminiscent of her powerful version of Oh Atlanta.

The Bluegrass Album Band era had Dan singing Down The Road and I’m On My Way Back To The Old Home, and Tony’s solo projects were highlighted with Four Strong Winds, Shadows and I Think It’s Going To Rain Today.

A special moment for me was the duet performance of Summertime on guitar and Dobro. Rice began with an extended introduction and chord melody version of the song, with Douglas joining him midway for an instrumental tour de force that ran several minutes.

Following that piece, Douglas took the microphone to shower praises on Tony, and finished by saying:

“Things just fall out of me when I’m playing with this man that don’t happen with anyone else.”

That generated a hearty laugh from Rice, who simply replied:

“Thanks… I think.”

It struck me watching the show that the musicians on stage with Rice probably didn’t need much rehearsal to prepare for these concerts. Like most of us who learned to play bluegrass after the mid 1970s, all of those songs were burned into their psyches from hundreds of close listens, and countless jam session versions. The one exception would be Jerry Douglas, who actually performed on many of the original recordings.

I was delighted to note a near sellout crowd for a bluegrass concert, with 4316 of the 5301 seats in the Salem Civic Center having been sold.

There are only a few dates left on this special tour – tonight in Atlanta, Sunday in Charleston, and a final show at Telluride in June. If you have a chance to witness them together on stage, we urge you to make the effort to do so.

If that opportunity will not arise, fear not – the shows are being recorded. I’m not sure if every show is being tracked, but they surely were recording last night in Salem, and I know that the Knoxville show that kicked off the tour was recorded as well.

No official word yet about a live CD release, but one expects that if they capture enough satisfactory material, this special collaboration will be soon available for savoring in your music medium of choice.

In closing, I want to pass out a little credit for the successes of this tour – both artistic and commercial – to Sammy Shelor of Lonesome River Band. Sam has been active for several years in promoting the concept of a bluegrass headlining act performing in tandem with Tony Rice, and using the host band’s vocalists to sing the Rice material.

Sammy tells us that only a year or so ago, they were doing one of these Rice/LRB shows, and he noticed Jerry Douglas watching attentively from the wings. After the show, Jerry enthusiastically approached Sammy and wondered aloud why no one had thought of doing this before, now that Tony’s throat problems prevent him from singing.

Kudos to Sam for starting the ball rolling, and to Jerry for taking it to the next level. Those that were able to catch one of these shows will not likely forget them soon.

Special thanks to Mary and Grant with Sacks Co, who are managing this tour, for their help in getting us seated.

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About the Author

John Lawless

John had served as primary author and editor for The Bluegrass Blog from its launch in 2006 until being folded into Bluegrass Today in September of 2011. He continues in that capacity here, managing a strong team of columnists and correspondents.