Bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs celebrates marriage and music at upcoming Brown County concert
Bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and his wife Sharon marked 41 years of sweet harmony a few days ago with a celebratory dinner in Nashville, Tennessee. One has to assume they live what they sing in shared tunes such as 2014’s “Hearts Like Ours”. disarming simplicity of their conjugal marathon:
Hearts like ours/Strong and true/So in love/It’s you and me.
Skaggs, 68, brings his first love — or possibly his second, if you count his very public Christian faith — to a concert Aug. 26 at the Brown County Music Center in Nashville, just across the fire, dear mentor The Property of Bill Monroe where Skaggs played at Monroe’s Bean Blossom Festival for years.
He still harbors such respect for the bluegrass pioneer who died in 1996 that the musician calls him “Mr. Monroe. It was the man who brought a 6-year-old Skaggs to the audience stage of a Kentucky concert and let the boy play Monroe’s revered mandolin in a standing ovation that kickstarted the Skaggs legacy and the magic of the mandolin.
“We and the band love coming out there,” Skaggs said from his Tennessee home. “Mr. Monroe left such an indelible mark in this area while he was still with us in bodily form.
Which means, for Skaggs, the indomitable spirit of Monroe resonates amidst the hills and howls of Brown County.
So he promises to include a Monroe track or two in what could be a 20-song, 80-minute set list. He acknowledged that this could include the song “Uncle Pen”, which was huge for him and Monroe.
“And I’m sure we’ll talk a lot about him,” he said.
Skaggs talks a lot about gratitude these days, especially touring with his longtime band Kentucky Thunder which he talks about enthusiastically. The man who has won 15 Grammy Awards and been inducted into every Hall of Fame imaginable – bluegrass, country, musicians, etc. – said he always had a reason to perform: joy, for himself and for others.
“And the band and I hope that maybe for a few hours we can bring a sense of peace to the middle of some of the division today,” he said.
Skaggs aims for that with a mix of music that spans bluegrass to country to gospel – and hard-to-define collaborations over the past decade or more with artists as varied as Christian pop singer Steven Curtis Chapman, Jazz-oriented Bruce Hornsby, rock band Phish, pop singer Barry Gibb and others. Click almost any music video online and Skaggs’ tenor voice always sounds great.
Listen to passionate, haunting numbers such as “Can’t Shake Jesus” from recent shows and the artist seems to sing from his heart as much as anything else. Quadruple bypass surgery two years ago left him literally in tears grateful for his physical heart.
And like Monroe decades ago, Ricky Skaggs sometimes attracts younger audiences to perform with him. This includes established artists of today such as Sarah Jarosz and Carson Peters. Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder then brought fiddle and mandolin player Peters to one of their frequent dates at the Grand Ole Opry.
“He absolutely stole the show and was amazing,” Skaggs said of Peters. “Needless to say, I no longer needed to call the Opry to get Carson up. They just started calling her.
When Skaggs has time at home, he’s a pretty accomplished photographer — enough that he’s exhibited in performing arts center galleries and sold some of his landscape shots on his music website.
“It doesn’t really make any money,” he said. “But it’s fun – and just another nice link to a creative gift.”
About the concert
Who: Bluegrass and country bands Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder.
When: 8 p.m. on August 26.
Where: Brown County Music Center, 200 Maple Leaf Drive in Nashville.