Ralph Stanley brings bluegrass music to the MET
Published: Monday, February 18, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 18, 2013 00:02
Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys opened to a sold-out audience Friday night at the Metropolitan Theatre on High Street.
Stanley, who created his own style of banjo playing, has been performing since 1946 – first with his brother, Carter, as the Stanley Brothers, then in a prolific solo career after Carter’s death.
Stanley began his solo career after being pressured by fans after Carter’s death in 1966.
Friday night’s show opened with a rendition of "Man of Constant Sorrow," and the audience went wild. The tune, made popular by the Soggy Bottom Boys in "O Brother Where Art Thou," is always a crowd pleaser, and it perfectly showcased Stanley’s expressive voice.
Stanley is 85 years old and will be turning 86 later this month. His age brings a level of soul to his voice that simply can’t be replicated.
He slowed the show for a somber moment, performing his Grammy-winning rendition of "O Death." The song is beautiful no matter what, but Stanley’s mournful tones made his a capella rendering even more striking. Watching a man of his age, who can really feel the lyrics, sing the song was a very moving experience.
Even in his age, Stanley can wail out the high harmonies that make the song so great.
The band also played to the audience of Mountaineers when they asked for requests and were met with shouts of many songs, but eventually played "Good Ol’ Mountain Dew." The song is not only a bluegrass standard, but it is an integral part of "The Pride of West Virginia," the Mountaineer Marching Band’s, traditional pregame show. In short, the audience loved it.
The show was a family affair, and it included Stanley’s son, Ralph II, and his grandson, Nathan. Ralph II was formerly the rhythm guitarist in the Clinch Mountain Boys and has since begun his own solo career. He performed one of his own songs, entitled "Bluefield," about southern West Virginia. The more modern country was in stark contrast to the classic bluegrass of the rest of the show, but was welcomed warmly by the receptive audience.
Nathan is the current rhythm guitarist, and he is also beginning in a solo career of his own. This included a song he wrote in tribute to his grandfather, which the band performed early in the show.
Stanley’s legendary banjo-picking style, a variation on Earl Scruggs’ three-finger style, is continued by Mitchell Van Dyke, whose impressive speed made his solos exciting every time.
All of the members of the Clinch Mountain boys are incredibly accomplished musicians, but the really great part of the show was the authenticity of the style. This was old-school bluegrass as it’s meant to be.
It looks like Stanley’s impact on bluegrass will outlive him in performers like the Clinch Mountain Boys, who perpetuate the classics.