IBMA Travelogue # 2

Our own intrepid correspondent, Richard Thompson [bluegrassmercury], has arrived in Nashville from the UK to attend the IBMA convention next week. This is his first trip to IBMA in 20 years, and we thought that his impressions and considerations would be of interest both to others who are likewise preparing to attend, and our many readers who would love be there but are unable to do so.

bluegrassmercury – Travelogue #2
by Richard F Thompson

Richard F. Thompson aka bluegrassmercuryWe had the pleasure of attending the Grand Ole Opry last night (9/27). I say we, my wife Karen will probably get many mentions over the next week or so; she’s my trusty photographer.

It was my third visit to the Opry, if my memory serves me correctly and Karen’s second experience of the show.

The format never changes; it’s an institution and it works, so why fix it! It is a superb variety show with entertainment for very nearly all tastes. For those that don’t know, each artist is limited to one or two songs on his or her portion of the show, which for this particular evening, was split into four parts, each half an hour long.

There was a good mix of ladies of country music – I mean real country music.

The still beautiful Connie Smith demonstrated why Dolly Parton rates her among the top three female singers in any genre, telling me that she Never Once Stopped Loving You. The feeling’s mutual Connie! Marty, you are one very fortunate fellow.

Canadian Terri Clarke has a rare empathy with an audience and won more favor with a very good version of Loretta Lynn’s first recorded song Honky Tonk Girl. Karen was thrilled by that. And Suzy Bogguss reminded us that the art of yodeling is still alive and well.

Little Jimmy Dickens was in good wise-cracking form and reminded us of his abilities as great ballad singer, even at 87 years of age or thereabouts. In contrast the portly Jack Greene looked as though age had caught up with him a few years ago.

There were four bluegrass acts this evening; Jesse McReynolds and the Virginia Boys, who performed just one song; I’ll Love Nobody But You. He was accompanied by his granddaughter, Amanda Lynne and grandson Garrett (guitar), both singing harmony, and an ever-smiling legend, Jim Buchanan on fiddle, Terry Lease (banjo) and Matthew Madden (upright bass). Jesse still has nimble fingers.

The Del McCoury Band did two numbers in succession. The title of the first escaped me; the second was the Ronnie McCoury instrumental Quicksburg Rendezvous. Mark Fain, bass player with Kentucky Thunder deputized for Alan Bartram.

Ricky Skaggs hosted the next portion of the show and kicked it off with Why Did You Wander?, before later doing his late mother’s favourite song Mother’s Not Dead. In between, he introduced The Whites, who did a rousing Gospel number with Buck White featured on piano, rather than mandolin.

The Grascals effectively closed the show. It was the first time that I had seen them and I found them to have a presence and power; they reminded Karen of that aura associated with The Johnson Mountain Boys. I have to agree that that is a very apt comparison. They treated the receptive audience to Only This Whole World (title?) and Happy Go Lucky.

Front and centre were Terry Eldridge, Jamie Johnson and Terry Smith, combining voices excellently, while Danny Roberts impressed with some powerful mandolin playing. I will have to make listening again to his Mandolin Orchard CD one of my first tasks when I get home.

It was a very satisfying evening and whetted the appetite for what is to come next week when there will be sizeable sets rather than snapshots of obviously great talents.

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.