A broken banjo string at the end of the first song was the only noticeable glitch Tuesday night (Sept. 7) when Earl Scruggs performed the first of four special concerts at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville.
At age 80, Scruggs takes everything in stride, as does his son, Gary, who is serving as the musical director for the concert series.
“Dad broke a string,” Gary Scruggs joked to the crowd at the Ford Theater. “It’s an old trick he does to get home early.”
At Tuesday’s show, nobody seemed in a hurry to leave, especially not the unannounced guest performer, Travis Tritt, or any of the musicians in the stellar seven-piece band that backed the Hall of Fame member. And it’s hard to quibble with a band featuring Bryan Sutton and Jon Randall on guitar, John Gardner on drums, Glen Duncan on fiddle, Rob Ickes on Dobro and John Jorgensen on mandolin, electric guitar and, at one point, clarinet. Gary Scruggs, who for years fronted the Earl Scruggs Revue, was an especially welcome participant as bassist and the unassuming host for the evening.
The concert series is part of Earl Scruggs’ distinction as the Hall of Fame’s 2004 artist-in-residence. The concerts will continue on Sept. 14, 2l and 29 with other backing musicians, special guests and songs. In March 2005, he and his wife and business partner, Louise, will also be honored with the Hall of Fame’s exhibit titled Banjo Man: The Musical Journey of Earl Scruggs.
Much of the concert centered on songs Scruggs recorded during his days with Lester Flatt, including barnburners such as “Salty Dog Blues” and “Earl’s Breakdown.” However, the show also acknowledged his work during the ’70s when some bluegrass purists criticized him for gravitating toward rock music with his sons in the Earl Scruggs Revue. It almost seemed like a moot point Tuesday night when the band unleashed one of the Revue’s favorite songs, a Byrds-inspired version of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
Throughout the evening, vocals were provided by band members, including Sutton, Randall, Duncan, Jorgensen and Gary Scruggs, but the crowd was excited when Tritt arrived to sing “Worried Man Blues” and “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow.” When Tritt admitted his nervousness while strapping on a banjo to join Scruggs in his most famous instrumental, “Foggy Mountain Breakdown,” the Hall of Fame member joked, “Stand close to me. I need a new lick or two.”
While Scruggs is the single most influential banjo player in history, he’s also an exceptional guitarist. One of the biggest treats of the evening was listening to him play the late Mother Maybelle Carter’s old Gibson arch-top guitar to perform “Wildwood Flower” and “You Are My Flower.”
Concert audiences in Nashville audiences occasionally become jaded as they take for granted the musical bounties of living in Music City. And then there are those times when the audience feels privileged to have even been in the room when a truly special event takes place. Earl Scruggs’ performance at the Hall of Fame felt exactly like that.
“Salty Dog Blues”
“Long Black Veil”
“Ashes of Love”
“In the Pines”
“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”
“Doin’ My Time”
“We’ll Meet Again Sweetheart”
“Foggy Mountain Chimes”
“John Hardy Was a Desperate Little Man”
“You Are My Flower”
“Paul and Silas”
“Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms”
“Step It Up and Go”
“The Ballad of Jed Clampett”
“Worried Man Blues”
“I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow”
“Foggy Mountain Breakdown”
“Sittin’ on Top of the World”