Ralph Stanley brings knee-slappin’ bluegrass

Ralph Stanley, who “The New York Times” described as “the living patriarch of bluegrass,” performed in  Sauder Concert Hall last Friday night along with the bluegrass Clinch Mountain Boys as part of the Performing Arts Series.

Stanley, 82, began performing professionally with his late brother, Carter, in 1946. He has since won wide acclamation and numerous Grammys, including one for his part in the “O Brother Where Art Thou?”  soundtrack.

The first numbers of the program featured the quick-picking Clinch Mountain Boys, decked out in black suits and tan cowboy hats, whose various soloists had the crowd clapping.

Soon after, Ralph Stanley began to sing.

His plaintive, weathered voice rang in songs such as “O Death,” which student Jeremy Good described as “a bone chiller.”

Despite several sorrowful lyrics, the show was also touched by humor. At one moment, Stanley kissed his suit jacket after taking it off to play the banjo explaining that “my wife’s picture is in that pocket,” who he later pointed out in the third row as “the prettiest woman in that section.”

In addition, Stanley joked about his failing memory.

“I don’t know the words to this song,” Stanley sang on the last verse of the classic, “I’ll Fly Away.”

The second 45-minute set featured several requests as well as some Gospel songs, including a lined call-and-response version of “Amazing Grace.” The fast-paced “Orange Blossom Special” topped off the requests.

After the show, several students spoke approvingly of the concert.

Ross Weaver, a senior, commented “that [the] ole time-y music took me back to my Appalachia roots.”

Lifetime bluegrass fan Nora Miller described it as “one of the best nights of my semester.”

Written by Andrea Kraybill

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