Ralph Stanley at the Cedar Cultural Center, 1/10/14
Photo by Mark N. Kartarik
Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys
Cedar Cultural Center, Minneapolis
Friday, January 10, 2014
Greeted with a standing ovation from the passionate audience Friday night at the Cedar, Dr. Ralph Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys graced the stage for what ultimately was an historic occasion, marking his final go around and current farewell tour.
Jumping right in with his signature song from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack, the living legend stood stoically, mustering up whatever voice he could on "Man of Constant Sorrow" that drew much fanfare from the sold out room.
Stanley, who's turning 87 in February left the picking, grinning and introductions to his grandson, "Prince of Bluegrass" Nathan. He carried the show and has taken the reins as leader of the band. However the focus was on his "Papaw" and the enormous legacy of music he embodies as a pioneer of bluegrass music that dates back to the '40s and his partnership with the late brother, Carter as the Stanley Brothers.
Photos by Mark N. Kartarik
The tightness of the fiddle, banjo, guitar, upright bass, and Nathan Stanley's voice kept the program moving and enraptured the bluegrass enthusiasts present to celebrate the elder Stanley's music and notoriety throughout the night. As much of a spiritual occasion that the music brought, there was also a palatable sense of family as Nathan consistently praised his grandfather and spoke lovingly of all the life and musical lessons he has learned travelling on the road with him since he was only two years old.
Going back and forth greeting the audience Nathan and Ralph sounded encouraged. In a thick Southern drawl they both gave praise, "We just got to say a holler to all our friends here tonight. We feel so much love." With Ralph chiming in, "It's much colder than the last time we were here, but sometimes you take the bitter with the sweet."
With as much gospel spirit the group expressed plaintive renditions of "I've Never Seen the Grace of our Savior" and provided rich, perfect harmony in an a cappella fashion on "One Day I Will."
With several high speed picking instrumentals that displayed each musician's prowess It was the eventual solo vocal performance Ralph delivered with "O Death" that really illustrated the urgency of the evening. With his unmistakably haunting voice it was hard not to recognize the frailty of his presence that wasn't lost on the audience and generated all the more appreciation.
The familial vibe continued, delving back into the catalog the group resorted to more Stanley Brothers standards including "Rank Stranger" and Nathan Stanley performed some new songs in tribute to his grandfather with the heartwarming "Papaw I Love You." Eventually the group introduced Ralph Stanley Jr. who came out on stage to perform some songs of his own including "Bloomfield" along with his father's "Lonesome Old Song" and "Katy Daley."
Taking an extensive break between sets the Stanleys and Clinch Mountain Boys hung out around the merch table, taking photos and signing CDs, showing much more appreciation toward the audience with the opportunity to be up close and personal.
Photo by Mark N. Kartarik
With more country standards in the second half including Larry Spark's "Love of the Mountains," Ricky Skaggs' "Don't Cheat in our Hometown" and Tom Paxton's "Can't Help but Wonder Where I'm Bound" things shifted toward more spiritual songs and provided opportunity for Nathan to testify a bit on his love for God and Jesus Christ. Throwing everyone for a loop the fiddle player pulled out a Shofar, a traditional Jewish instrument and performed a solo. While the gesture was appreciated it seemed a bit of a stretch when Nathan explained how the instrument had inspired a previous audience member to declare themselves born again in a fan letter.
Regardless the continued outpouring of love and affection toward Dr. Stanley culminated in a couple sing alongs. Leading the audience in a somber "Amazing Grace" and "Will the Circle Be Unbroken" and "Worried Man Blues" the group took a bow and returned to the merch table for more meet and greets with the joyful crowd.
Critic's Bias: Very much appreciated the opportunity the Cedar provided in bringing Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys back for one last hootenanny.
The Crowd: Extremely attentive and polite group of bluegrass enthusiasts of all ages.
Overheard in the Crowd: "They're quite the setup, I have never heard a group hawk so much merch."
Random Notebook Dump: Turning a Shofar into a bong, perhaps..into a bluegrass instrument? Not so much.
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