Monday night fans and musicians filled the Grand Ole Opry house in Nashville to help Rounder Records celebrate forty years in the record business. I really feel like we did help them, because the show was not only a concert, but a television taping. That meant that we had to do a lot of extra clapping and look pretty for the camera’s audience shots. It also meant that everything took longer than it would have in a typical live show, especially resetting the stage between acts. (And pictures were absolutely forbidden, so all you’re getting today is text.)
But the performances made all the waiting around worthwhile. There was a lot of music on the show that wasn’t bluegrass (Mary Chapin Carpenter, Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, the amazing Irma Thomas, and the emcee, actress Minnie Driver), so I won’t talk about that here. Suffice to say it will be well worth tuning in to the PBS special when it airs in March 2010.
Of bluegrass interest was Bela Fleck, who played a couple solo pieces. The one he played on the cello banjo was really cool. It was some music that he learned in Tanzania and Mali on the trip to Africa that resulted in the documentary film Throw Down Your Heart, and the CD of the same name. His second tune started out solo but quickly turned duo when he was joined on stage by Abigail Washburn, who sang I’ve Got The Keys To The Kingdom. His final tune was another duet—this time with Jerry Douglas. He said that they were “kids together on Rounder.” Indeed Bela was only 19 when the label first signed him.
The final act of the evening was Alison Krauss + Union Station featuring Jerry Douglas. It was great to see the band play together again, since they’ve been off doing individual projects for so long. They did five numbers including the first song that Alison recorded for Rounder back when she was a teenager, Too Late to Cry, written by John Pennell, who was in the audience. They sang their last song, A Living Prayer, gathered around one mic. The magical performance earned them a genuine standing ovation long enough to merit an encore, Ghost in this House.
After Ghost everyone pretty much thought the show was over and started leaving until Minnie Driver came back on stage and said that there’s a big finale with everyone singing on stage and “don’t leave!!” The feel-good medley of Angels Watching Over Me/I’ll Fly Away/Down By The Riverside was the perfect ending to the celebratory show.
One last note—part of the background set for the show were huge versions of album covers. It especially tickled me that one of the covers blown up was J.D. Crowe and The New South (Rounder 0044) in colors much more vibrant than they ever were on the cardboard LP jacket. It was, by the way, the second cover. Not the original one with J.D. signaling his intentions.