Back on November 14 at the 2018 CMA Awards, Ricky Skaggs showed the country music world what we in bluegrass have known for 45 years. To wit, that he is among the most gifted entertainers ever to grab a guitar or mandolin, and that his band is as good a bluegrass ensemble as has ever been assembled. And further, that bluegrass is an exacting discipline that requires musicianship of the highest order.
As a recent inductee into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the CMA put together a lengthy tribute to Skaggs on the show, which was televised live on the ABC network. Hands down, it was the highlight of the show, a point made for the next week in the television and entertainment media.
It started with Ricky and Kentucky Thunder and their arrangement of Black Eyed Susie, played at ludicrous speed. When they finished the song – which didn’t take long at that pace – a country band led by Keith Urban appeared on stage, launching into Highway 40 Blues, the Larry Cordle number that Skaggs took to #1 in 1983. As soon as that was done, yet another band was revealed, featuring Marty Stuart and Brad Paisley, kicking off Country Boy, another #1 hit for Ricky in ’85. Skaggs took part in all three presentations, giving the appreciative audience a healthy dose of mandolin and guitar picking, with his distinctive singing voice on top of it all.
His hair may be grey (and long!), but Skaggs showed everyone that he hasn’t lost a step, and picks with the same fire he showed as a teenager when he and Keith Whitley captured Ralph Stanley’s attention.
After all, it was his return to traditional country and bluegrass-influenced music that made him a country radio star in the ’80s. It seems that, once again, he has showed that market that people still love that sound.
We had hoped to share video of this performance in the days after it aired, but could never get the ABC video to load properly. But it has now appeared on YouTube, and if you missed it earlier in the month, it must be seen to be believed. In addition to his own fine band, Ricky invited a number of Nashville’s top young bluegrass artists to participate in the tribute. You’ll see Matt Menefee on banjo during Highway 40 Blues, and Sierra Hull, Justin Moses, and Carson Peters joining in on Country Boy.
It’s another terrific demonstration that when bluegrass music comes on, music lovers eat it up. And where would you find a more knowledgeable audience than at the CMA Awards.
This set was so strong that it led the IBMA Awards review committee to ponder aloud how it could be honored, as the IBMA currently has no award for video performance.
Well done all! There are so many strong points that I hesitate to point them out, though watching Jake Workman with Kentucky Thunder show hundreds of thousands of guitarists around the world that they have a lot of catching up to do was quite memorable.
All hail Ricky Skaggs!