WDVX’s world-class bluegrass lights up Clayton Center

The WDVX World Class Bluegrass show certainly lived up to its name when it graced the stage of Maryville College’s Clayton Center for the Arts.

The night was opened by Jesse Gregory and the band Faultline.

Their performance was a great example of the direction bluegrass is taking as a genre— younger performers keeping the sound of the classic banjo/mandolin/guitar/fiddle/bass quintet and giving it a twist of their own.

Most notable of their performances was Jessie’s song, “Sincerely Julie Ann,” which was written as a “reply” to Del McCoury’s famous heartbroken-boyfriend song “Julie Ann.”

The second performers of the night were Doyle Lawson and Quicksilver, veritable legends in the bluegrass world. Lawson is not known for inertia, as he’s been performing for over 30 years; and, although Quicksilver’s lineup has changed, its quality has remained the same.

Lawson’s jacket wasn’t the only sparkle on stage that night, as the front man’s mandolin and Josh Swift’s dobro came close to stealing the show.

“Tennessee Banjo Man” provided his banjo player, Joe Dean, with his own bit of the spotlight. Dean has fast fingers, and plays with a spiritedness one only finds in a musician who truly loves his instrument.

Although Lawson himself is a fantastic bluegrass voice, his current guitarist and vocalist Dustin Pyrtle has a rich, soothing voice that switches between gospel and country and bluegrass as naturally as if he were speaking.

Of particular note during the performance of the full band were the songs “One Small Miracle” and “How Do You Say Goodbye to Sixty Years?” After a powerful performance of original songs and bluegrass standards, Lawson and his band performed a beautiful series of gospel songs acapella in the old church style so many of us grew up hearing.

Del McCoury’s portion of the show came on fast. With his spangled jacket and brushed-back white hair, McCoury looked every part the bluegrass virtuoso that he is.

The Del McCoury Band is a family band with Del’s sons Robbie and Ronnie playing with him since the 1980s, on banjo and mandolin respectively.

Their set opened up with a high energy that ran through all the songs, even when the tempo slowed down. “Nashville Cats,” “The Kentucky Waltz” and “The Streets of Baltimore” all shared the same punch that kept the audience captivated.

McCoury himself kept the audience on their toes with his between-song chatter, sharing the histories of his songs and of his band members, and even taking requests.

Such things are part of what makes McCoury so popular. In addition to his prodigious skill, his onstage presence is genial and approachable, and somehow he manages to make his performances feel as if you were in a small, private venue, no matter the actual size of the theater.

McCoury and his band also performed a few classic gospel tunes, which had the audience singing along quietly. McCoury and the band received a loud standing ovation from the audience, full of appreciative whistles and clapping.

All three bands gave stellar performances, showcasing the versatility of the genre that is bluegrass.

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