At one point during the Rural Rhythm Records after-hours showcase late Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning at the World of Bluegrass conference in Nashville, guitarist and vocalist John Miller told the dozens of spectators, “We’re having a good time up here.” The words weren’t really necessary, given that Dale Ann Bradley was clapping her hands, bassist Mike Conner was bobbing his head and dancing so much that he confessed to almost losing his place and most of the players wore broad smiles as an all-star cast billed as Bluestar worked through songs from the label’s new gospel project, Look To The Light.
The stirring performance of songs written by Rick Lang was the centerpiece of Rural Rhythm’s showcase, but it was just part of a menu of tasty offerings during the nearly three-hour show. Sets by Grasstowne, Lorraine Jordan & Carolina Road and the Bartley Brothers also stirred the crowd, as did an all-star bluegrass jam that brought down the curtain – or would have if the adjoining hotel meeting rooms actually had a curtain.
Miller, Grasstowne’s Steve Gulley and fiddler Greg Luck handled most of the lead vocals. Miller was solid throughout, especially on the show-opening Bad News for the Devil. But Gulley met the night’s biggest challenge head on, nailing How Far Will I Fall, which had been sung on the album by Russell Moore.
Despite Bluestar’s tremendous performance and Lang’s stellar writing, Gulley and Grasstowne turned in the most stirring gospel performance of the night, with an a cappella rendition of Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? with soaring four-part vocals. The band followed with a swinging Sweet Georgia Brown, with instrumental leads swapped several times by Alan Bibey on mandolin and Adam Haynes on fiddle.
The Bluestar set was hampered by sound problems, but Miller, who had a tumor removed from his tongue just over a month ago, and the other players barely seemed to notice. And Mike Conner kept right on dancing with his elegantly refinished Kay.