There are some well known bluegrass players who hide out in the air-conditioned comfort of the bus until just before a show, and spend as little time at the record table as they can. Then there’s Bobby Hicks.
With a boatload of awards, including multiple Grammy trophies, and a resume that features backing Bill Monroe as a Bluegrass Boy and playing in the legendary Bluegrass Album Band and with Ricky Skaggs, you might think the 78-year-old fiddler would be content to rest on his laurels. Or to at least show up at the last minute to take the stage with J.D. Crowe and the New South on Sunday at the Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival.
Instead, Bobby showed up several hours before his festival-closing set, ready for the stage in black suit, white shirt and dark tie despite the oppressive heat. He stood in line with fans to buy a mint chocolate chip ice cream cone and he chatted backstage with anyone who approached. And, believe me, a LOT of people approached.
You can tell a musician’s status by the way other pickers treat him or her. By that standard, Bobby Hicks is at the top of the heap. I first got a glimpse of this a few years ago, when Bobby taught a one-day master class at Common Ground on the Hill in Westminster, MD. Instructors and students who played other instruments crowded in with the fiddlers to hear Bobby play and teach. And that night, when Bobby joined the instructor concert for a couple of songs, Missy Raines paused long enough to switch on her digital recorder to capture the magic.
I saw the same thing Sunday afternoon. If musicians weren’t gathering around to pick with Bobby in a shady spot behind the stage, they were posing for pictures with him or chatting reverently. “You’ll see that one on Facebook,” Christy Reid said after she snapped a picture of her husband Lou Reid and Bobby just after Lou finished up a set with the Seldom Scene.
But if Bobby noticed he was the center of attention, he didn’t let on. He played his tail off in the backstage jams, then went out to the stage and tore it up with his old buddy, J.D. The only down note of the show came from who wasn’t with them. Tony Rice was on the bill, but this reunion of three key members of the Bluegrass Album Band was not meant to be. Tony was with his family, mourning the death of his stepson in a motorcycle accident last week.