In the bottom of Shriners’ Old National Centre in Indianapolis, IN, a packed house was anxiously awaiting “the one and only second performance” of a band they’d never heard. Noam Pikelny with his friends Ronnie McCoury, Luke Bulla, Barry Bales, and Bryan Sutton took the stage on April 10 and proved, “This ain’t a hobby.”
Bryan Sutton uttered the phrase in jest and spontaneously dubbed it the unofficial name of the handful of tour dates the all-star group is playing this year. Although Sutton said it in fun, it is an appropriate phrase when discussing some of the finest musicians of this generation. Having worked with such heavy-hitters as The Punch Brothers, The Del McCoury Band, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Jerry Douglas, John Cowan, and Hot Rize, their resume reads as a who’s who of modern bluegrass. With a few dozen IBMA awards and several Grammies to boot, “pros” seems an inadequate term.
Their instrumental prowess was on full display on Wednesday. Whether it was a bluegrass standard (Streamlined Cannonball, I’ll Go Steppin’ Too), a country favorite (Another Place, Another Time, Evangelina), or an original tune (Manchicken, My Mother Thinks I’m A Lawyer, Punkinhead Shuffle, Dawggone), each song was played to perfection. All on stage seemed relaxed, and there to have a good time. The relaxed atmosphere made for some memorable moments as these artists weren’t afraid to go out on a limb.
One of the show’s many highlights was toward the end of the night. Ronnie turned and was muttering to Noam, who nodded in response. Ronnie turned and explained his plan to the other guys on stage, while the audience sat anxiously awaiting. McCoury came to the microphone and explained they were going off the setlist.
The band proceeded to tear into finest version of Dave Dudley’s Six Days On The Road anyone’s ever heard. Ronnie sang his heart out, and everyone took a mind-boggling instrumental break that made you think they’d been playing the song for years.
Ronnie told me afterward that they’d never even practiced the song before; he just told everyone to “follow his lead.”
Like Bryan said, “This ain’t a hobby.”