In the flood of music at the World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville – some of the biggest names on stage and polished jams seemingly around every corner – it’s still possible to stumble on magical moments. The venue for one of those moments Tuesday was a private showcase hosted by Jason Grubb, an artist representative from West Virginia.
The magician, in this case, was Ron Block, a top-notch picker and under-appreciated vocalist who devoted much of his part of the showcase to gospel tunes he wrote, including the sublime He’s Holding Onto Me and Be Assured, which was first recorded by Dan Tyminski. But he also led mandolinist Sierra Hull and other pickers in a fresh rendition of the much-done – and often overdone – Clinch Mountain Backstep.
But the night’s best magic might have come from a message he sent to singer Stacy Grubb, asking if she knew his song Living Prayer, which was recorded by Block’s bandleader, Alison Krauss. Grubb said she was nervous when the implications of his question sunk in – he wanted her to sing it. That nervousness gave the song a tender vulnerability that was enhanced by the minimalist arrangement of only Block’s guitar and Hull’s mandolin.
Stacy Grubb, the newest member of the Wheeling Jamboree in West Virginia, is gathering material for a follow up to her Hurricane CD, which has led to a growing following in Europe and gained some attention in the states. She has a ready supply of material; she writes her own material and is the daughter of Alan Johnston, who has written chart-climbing tunes for Del McCoury, Dave Davis and others.