KINGSPORT, Tenn. — Porter Wagoner, Alison Krauss and Dan Tyminski were among the legion of artists performing at a banquet Friday night (April 6) to honor Ralph Stanley and raise funds for the museum that bears his name in Clintwood, Va. More than 200 guests gathered at the Meadowview Convention Center in Kingsport, Tenn., for the $100-a-plate event.
The focus of the celebration was Stanley’s 80th birthday (which occurred Feb. 27) and his 60th year as a professional entertainer.
The East Tennessee State University Bluegrass Band, under the direction of Raymond McClain, served both as the evening’s opening act and house band. (McLain became immersed in bluegrass as a member of the McLain Family Band and later worked with Jim and Jesse McReynolds.)
Wagoner appeared nearly recovered from an illness that sidelined him for several months last year. Dressed in an ivory-colored suit studded with sequins, he seemed to gain strength and enthusiasm as the evening progressed. He opened his segment with the raucous bluegrass standard “Bear Tracks,” a number he often performs on the Grand Ole Opry.
“For years, [the Stanley Brothers] were my favorite singers,” he told the crowd. He recalled his mother buying him a copy of their record, “The White Dove,” when he was still living in his hometown of West Plains, Mo. “That’s what really got me in the music business,” he said. “I wanted to sing like that.”
In 1998, Stanley invited Wagoner to sing “The White Dove” with him on his award-winning Clinch Mountain Country album. When it came time to record the song, Wagoner said, he brushed aside the lyric sheet handed to him.
“I told them I knew the words to that song,” Wagoner said. “And I did.”
Then, addressing his remarks to Stanley, who sat with his family at a table directly in front of the stage, Wagoner said, “One of the highlights of my career in country music was getting to sing that song with you.”
Continuing his set, Wagoner launched into “A Satisfied Mind,” which, in 1955, became his first No. 1 single. After singing the intro — “How many times have you heard someone say” — the lanky singer showed his whimsical side by pausing and remarking to the crowd, “This is usually where the applause comes in.”
Wagoner next brought his former singing partner, Christie Lynn, and bluegrass gospel vocalist Judy Marshall to the stage to join him on “Working on a Building.” Stanley then joined to group to sing “The Model Church” and “The White Dove.” (True to his word, Wagoner sang his parts of the latter without recourse to notes.)
Marshall led the crowd in singing “Happy Birthday” to Stanley, who then arose to cut his birthday cake.
“I plan on my hundredth birthday to have a show,” said the happy octogenarian, “and I want every one of you to be there.”
Marshall resumed the show by singing several gospel tunes. Then she beckoned Krauss and Tyminski to the microphone. She said she first met Krauss when the two sang with Stanley on his 1993 collection, Saturday Night & Sunday Morning.
When Marshall asked if she had anything to say for the occasion, Krauss quipped, “I’ll fight anybody who doesn’t love Ralph Stanley.” With Marshall singing lead, she and Tyminski provided harmonies for “Heaven’s Bright Shore” and “Vision of Mother.”
Departing from the evening’s agenda, master of ceremonies Freddie Phillips summoned all the performers back to the stage to sing “I Am a Man of Constant Sorrow” from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Tyminski, who sang the film soundtrack’s hit single, again took the lead in a performance that had the audience cheering wildly.
A local band, Lonesome Will Mullins & The Virginia Playboys, closed the show, displaying a remarkable grasp of traditional bluegrass material for a group whose members were so young.
Besides being a splendidly entertaining ensemble in its own right, the ETSU Bluegrass Band hit every musical curve thrown at it during the program. In the warmup, fiddler and vocalist Leona Tokutake, a student from Tokyo, was riveting on such classic fare as “Little Cabin Home on the Hill,” “Are You Missing Me” and “Roly Poly.”
Dignitaries in the audience included Aaron Davis, executive director and curator of the Ralph Stanley Museum and Traditional Music Center, and Andy Ridenour, executive producer of the West Virginia Public Radio music series, Mountain Stage.