Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder open CCA’s fall season

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Performers who have careers spanning decades do so because they have a rare combination of talent, audience chemistry and humility that give them the means to create meaningful works and performances for years.
After attending Saturday night’s concert at the Clayton Center for the Arts, it is easy to see how bluegrass picker Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder have managed to play for over 13 years.
The Skaggs concert marked the opening for the new season at the CCA, the first under new general manager Blake Smith. The first show opened to a packed house Saturday evening, and he immediately began the act with his trademark fast picking.
The concert as a whole was fantastic. Skaggs is not known to put on a lackluster show and his performance at the CCA was no exception.
From a rollicking start that led into more traditional bluegrass and occasionally tripped into gospel and swing, Skaggs and band led the audience through a night of music and memories.
He recounted stories of playing his mandolin at age seven with Earl Scruggs and the years he spent under the tutelage of bluegrass greats, such as Scruggs and Bill Monroe.
In between songs, he made habit of regaling the audience with tales of growing up in Tennessee during the 1950s.
The songs themselves varied from those of his own composition, such as the humorous “Can’t Hurt Ham,” to timeless favorites made popular by bluegrass legends decades before, such as “Blue Night.”
The concert kept a constant energy. Too often audience interest can flag in the last third of a show; however, every attendee was captivated by the energetic performance onstage at the Skaggs concert. It was clear that Skaggs could associate with his audience well, often making jokes about the proper pronunciation of “Maryville” and “Louisville.”
Skaggs displayed a light-hearted humor with the band after the appearance of a couple of bats, which had found their way into the theater when his fiddle player, Andy Leftwich, began playing high-pitched notes.
This earned him a round of laughter from the audience. The bats became a running joke through the rest of the performance.
But all these qualities do not cover the humility that makes Skaggs a good performer.
The musician made point to pay heavy tribute during the show to Scruggs and Monroe. Although the show was billed as “Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder,” Skaggs made a point of showing his band off, not content to leave them as faceless backup members to his performance. He introduced each of them in turn, telling a little bit about their history and where they are from, including their current or previous projects.
Kentucky Thunder is composed of Scott Mulvahill, from Texas and Eddie Faris from Kansas, and, all hailing from Tennessee, are Justin Moses from Madisonville, Cody Kilby from Cowan, Andy Leftwich from White House and Paul Brewster from Knoxville.
After the introductions, several of the band members played songs of their own choosing. Particularly memorable was the performance of “Minor Swing,” played originally by classical guitar legend Django Reinhardt, led by Leftwich.
The CCA could not have asked for a better opening night, full of good memories and good music.
If this performance was any indication of what is to come, this season may be one of the best.

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