Bluegrass: The Perfect End to Fan Fair

Under a beautiful, moonlit sky, the annual Grand Ole Opry Bluegrass Show Thursday evening (June 15) concluded Fan Fair 2000 at the Tennessee State Fairgrounds. Heavy rain prior to the show did not deter some 300 fans who staked out wet seats for the 2½-hour concert. They heard some of the finest talent the genre has to offer.

The Nashville Irish Stepdancers opened the show, hosted by WSM’s Kyle Cantrell. Jerry and Tammy Sullivan’s powerful brand of string-driven Southern gospel set the stage for an evening of stellar performances. Opry favorite Mike Snider provided comic relief and demonstrated his chops playing clawhammer banjo.

Contemporary favorite Claire Lynch, backed by the top-notch musicians in the Front Porch String Band, played four songs, including “Love Light,” the title track from her recent solo album, and “Missionary Ridge,” also from the collection. Larry Cordle and Lonesome Standard Time delivered the most controversial song of the evening. “Murder on Music Row” describes the death of traditional country in the profit-driven world of today’s music business. Penned by Cordle and Larry Shell, the song brought whistles of approval from the fans.

Whirling around a single microphone, the “First Family of Bluegrass Music,” as the Del McCoury Band is known, revved up the audience with their cover of the Lovin’ Spoonful classic “Nashville Cats.” The Whites — Buck, Sharon and Cheryl — previewed “Keep on the Sunny Side,” their contribution to the soundtrack for the upcoming Coen Brothers’ film, Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? Buck sang vocals on the swinging “Texas to a T,” another highlight of their four-song set, which included guest appearances by fiddler Aubrey Haynie and guitarist Clay Hess.

“My goodness, you guys are the hardcore ones, ain’t you?” quipped Sharon, in reference to the humidity, which didn’t seem to dampen fan enthusiasm.

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder performed Bill Monroe’s “A Voice From on High” and Flatt & Scruggs’ “Rollin’ in My Sweet Baby’s Arms,” to the delight of the audience. For the finale, Skaggs brought out all the participating musicians to perform one of Monroe’s vigorous instrumentals, “Big Mon.” Skaggs is assembling a tribute album of the same name in honor of Monroe. Fiddles, mandolins, banjos and guitars — each took group “breaks” on their instruments, which heightened the level of musicianship to near perfection.

The Larry Stephenson Band and Dale Ann Bradley and Coon Creek also performed as part of the evening’s festivities. A fireworks display at the show’s conclusion signaled the end to another Fan Fair, the last at the Fairgrounds.

The only disappointment of the evening was the absence of elder statesman Mac Wiseman, originally scheduled to perform.