Monday, October 21, 2013

The Apparently Not-So-Farewell Dr. Ralph Stanley Farewell Tour

Since I started following the bluegrass scene on a fairly regular basis, it's been a personal goal to see perhaps the last living founder of old time mountain music, Dr. Ralph Stanley perform live. And when the good doctor stated that this was his farewell tour I targeted their show on October 20th at The Birchmere. In order to prepare for the evening I watched the Clinch Mountain Boys perform the previous week at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass festival. Over multiple viewings of the festival archives I saw that the band was extremely tight and fronted effortlessly by Stanley's 21 year old grandson Nathan Stanley.  While the youngest Stanley sings lead on many songs; there are plenty of vocals and harmonies from his grandfather as well as most of the Clinch Mountain Boys.

And this was very close to what we saw at The Birchmere; Dr. Ralph was in great form, the band was tight, and as a bonus former frontman, and son, Ralph Stanley II joined in for a few songs. They played old Stanley Brother's songs, popular songs such as Orange Blossom Special, and requests from the audience as if they were planted. This is one professional outfit. We even got to hear fiddler Dewey Brown play the Shofar - a biblical horn instrument made from a ram's horn. Pretty impressive. But the evening was all Dr. Ralph as he sung O Death, Man of Constant Sorrow, and Angel Band - repeating the verses for the last two multiple times as the crowd cheered him on.  Although he seemed to tire on occasion, he is 86 after all, he hung tough the entire evening and stated at the end that he's not done yet. He told us that at the time he announced his farewell tour he meant it; but now, he aims to keep performing as long as the good Lord allows. Thus, we hope to see the entire Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys next year; same place, same time. Or perhaps earlier at the Stanley conclave for the 44rd Annual Memorial Bluegrass Festival held Memorial Weekend and a new version slated for Labor Day weekend. We also plan on catching Ralph II and his band at the Lucketts Community Center December 7th. Cheers to a great night of old time mountain music.

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