Rickey Wasson Band plays for the home folks

There’s something special about that favorite local bluegrass venue that we all love. From seeing the regulars – the extended bluegrass family that we all have – to eating the hot dog chili that the smiling lady from just down the road makes, not to mention seeing our favorite performers come through town. Almost all of us have one of those spots. For the folks in Clay City, Kentucky that place is the Meadowgreen Park Music Hall.

Over the weekend, I had the chance to visit Clay City and Meadowgreen Park for the last show of their season, which generally runs from October through April. Concerts at Meadowgreen Park, which are hosted by the Kentucky Friends of Bluegrass Music Club, generally feature a nationally touring group with a local or regional band as an opening act. This week’s band? Hometown favorites, the Rickey Wasson Band.

To say the least, the $12 ticket I purchased was well worth it to see one of my favorite – and perhaps one of the most underrated – guitar players and singers in the world of bluegrass. Match that talent with an absolutely stellar lineup consisting of Matt Wallace (bass), Josh Hymer (banjo), Randy Graham (mandolin), and guest fiddler Steve Day, and of course you’re going to see a great show!

Wasson led the band through two rock solid sets of music containing a mixture of fan favorites from the J.D. Crowe catalog and several great numbers from his own projects. Songs like Losin’ in Las Vegas, Dark Hollow, and Lefty’s Old Guitar had the audience clapping and cheering throughout both sets. Seeing Wasson perform a concert in his hometown was a spectacular way to see the band in action, and I appreciated the way they kept the show moving along while still easily connecting with their fans. One of the first things said from the stage was Wasson questioning if a particular man in the audience had taken advantage of the sunny weather, gone fishing, and caught a big one that day – from which everybody got a good laugh.

It’s no secret that during his tenure as a member of the New South, Wasson performed and recorded several Merle Haggard songs, and the crowd seemed to enjoy hearing several of them again Saturday night. Highlights included the fiddle-guided Gospel number When My Last Song is Sung, and a bouncy, up-tempo version of Big City. The concert occurred almost a year to the day after Haggard’s passing, and the listeners certainly respected the band’s homage to the man Wasson referred to as the greatest country singer-songwriter of all time. Wasson even revealed that, several years ago, due to his love of Haggard’s songwriting and music, he had decided to record a tribute album to Haggard filled with top bluegrass singer and pickers. With the help of Crowe, who brought several lesser known Haggard songs to the project, Wasson finished recording the project last year the night before Haggard died. He hasn’t decided on a release date yet, but I’m sure bluegrass fans will be ready to listen at any time.

The audience also enjoyed when Wasson’s children, Darren and Alicia, joined the band for a couple of numbers near the end of the concert, with Darren taking his dad’s spot on guitar and lead vocals and Alicia chiming in with a strong harmony vocal. Darren proved himself a capable guitarist, earning applause for his picking on Handsome Molly and Blue Ridge Cabin Home. Alicia has already joined the music business, running her own record label called Truegrass Entertainment, and it seems like Darren may be following in his father’s footsteps, as well.

The New Balance, a relatively new group based out of Indiana, offered a strong opening to the evening with a set chock full of modern traditional bluegrass. They released their debut album last year, and they played several originals from it, as well as a long list of first and second generation favorites. Fans of the hard-driving, high-energy style played by many young bands these days would likely enjoy this group.

If you’re ever in eastern or central Kentucky on a Saturday night and are looking for good bluegrass, good food, and a friendly crowd, check out Meadowgreen Park Music Hall. It’s a great local venue that brings in a high quality of talent. For more information and a schedule, visit them on Facebook.

More videos can be seen on Styx Hicks’ YouTube channel.

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About the Author

John Curtis Goad

John Goad is a graduate of the East Tennessee State University Bluegrass, Old Time & Country Music program, with a Masters degree in both History and Appalachian Studies from ETSU.