Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver at the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts – photo by Elizabeth Snodgrass
Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver’s annual Christmas Homecoming show, and last home-based performance, was held Saturday, December 4, at Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts on the campus of Northeast State Community College in Blountville, Tennessee. Fans lucky enough to have snagged one of the several hundred tickets, which had been sold out for more than a month, all shouted, cheered, and stood to their feet as the band took to the stage. Lawson, ever the showman in his flashy red suit jacket and boots, joked, “Y’all sit down, we ain’t got started yet!”
The band quickly proved themselves worthy of the early standing ovation. From the first notes of Traveling Down the Blue Road to the last refrain of Sea of Life, the band’s two-plus hours of music was nearly flawless. Simply put, they stood and delivered song after song with top notch musicianship, and clean, clear vocals in perfect harmony. Band members Jerry Cole, Ben James, Eli Johnston, Matt Flake, and Stephen Burwell were all in high form as they tightly wove their parts together.
In addition to excellent music, the band also provided quite a bit of humor for the audience. One of the only musical missteps of the evening happened when James momentarily forgot a few words during That Train Don’t Stop Here Anymore, even singing, “Oh no,” before shooting a quick look at Lawson. As most Quicksilver fans know, Lawson is a stickler when it comes to perfection in singing and performing, and isn’t shy about letting his band members know that. James acknowledged as much at the end of the song, quipping, “Well folks, it’s a good thing he’s quitting at the end of the month because I would be currently unemployed.”
Though Lawson replied that James was, indeed, fired until next Saturday, James reminded him that the band has a show scheduled before that. Lawson, always quick with a dry reply, commented, “Well, I can do both parts. I’ll be a little sore, but…”
Quicksilver’s harmony vocal expertise was showcased throughout the evening on Gospel tracks like Help is On the Way, as well as some of the a cappella numbers the group is known for, like Ezekiel Saw the Wheel, I’m Glad Somebody Obeyed, and Little More Faith in Jesus, which have became perennial fan favorites. The 2021 version of Quicksilver is stacked with some of the best lead vocalists currently performing in bluegrass, and you could tell the band was thoroughly enjoying themselves throughout.
Speaking of excellent vocalists, a particularly touching moment occurred when Lawson welcomed Paul Williams to the stage to perform with the band. Williams delivered stunningly clear vocals on two songs, Blue Memories and Fraulein. In fact, his two standing ovations of the evening proves that he stands as one of the best vocalists in the business today, regardless of his 86 years of age.
Though Quicksilver is often recognized as a vocal group, the instrumentation was certainly no slouch. Johnston’s banjo playing was on point throughout the night, particularly during a rousing tribute to Bill Emerson on Sweet Dixie. Though Flake primarily plays bass for the band, he and Burwell played twin fiddles on several songs during the show, of which Tallahassee was a particular highlight. And of course, Lawson’s mandolin playing was just as stout as ever, even though he commented that his new Bill Monroe Hall of Fame Gibson F5, presented to him last week at the Station Inn, didn’t yet know all the songs he knew.
As the show began to wind down, Lawson took a moment to thank the band and his fans, as well as discuss a bit of what he has planned for the future – not directing traffic or working in the cafeteria at the new middle school in Bristol, as he joked, but spending time still in the music world, but away from the spotlight, likely focusing on production. As he left the stage, yet another standing ovation brought the band back for a two-song encore, the hometown crowd not quite ready to let him go.
Though it goes without saying at this point, let’s say it anyway. Doyle Lawson is a giant in bluegrass music. His absence from the scene next year will leave a gaping hole in the music that no one else can fill. We will miss him on stage, as well as his music, his wit, and his gift for continually fronting a strong professional band this past 40 years.
Lawson has two shows with Quicksilver left before stepping down as band leader for good – December 11 in Winchester, VA, and December 30 at the New Year’s Bluegrass Festival in Jekyll Island, GA. Check out the band’s website for ticket information, and if you’re like me, pray Lawson quickly grows tired of retirement! Long live Quicksilver!