Web special: Stanley's bluegrass family tradition 



Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys
Buskirk-Chumley Theater, Bloomington
Friday, Feb. 9

A tap-dancing guitarist, a family tradition that has spanned three generations, and the sheer musical energy to pop both a banjo and a mandolin string were all found on stage at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater last weekend. The intimate setting rang with music as Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys put on an impressive, high-energy show.

The talented eight-man band is made up of Dr. Ralph Stanley (vocals and banjo), Jack Cooke (bass), James Shelton (lead guitarist), Steve Sparkman (banjo), Ralph Stanley II (lead singer and rhythm guitarist), Dewey Brown (fiddle), Nathan Stanley (mandolin) and Danny Davis (guitar). In jazz-like fashion, each musician got his turn to shine through passing solos and feature pieces.

The “Lee Highway Blues” got the crowd started. Stanley II’s swift, rhythmic guitar strumming was perfectly executed. After this first piece, the legendary Stanley made his entrance. Each member of the group was introduced and featured in a unique way. Perhaps the most surprising was when Davis was introduced and proceeded to showcase his superb dancing skills. He tap-danced and boot-scuffed his way across the stage much to the delight of the audience.

One of the highlights of the evening was when Stanley sang “O Death,” a haunting a cappella tune. Not another sound could be heard as Stanley’s textured, emotional voice rang through the auditorium. Also, the young Nathan Stanley’s virtuosic mandolin playing was quite amazing to watch, as he seems to be following in his grandfather’s footsteps. He has only been playing the mandolin for three years, and he already has a new album of his own, entitled “Sandy Ridge.” As the concert rounded out, the group asked for audience participation for the popular classic “Amazing Grace.” The boys provided wonderful harmonies, and Stanley fed the verses to the audience in a unique, improvisational style.

The audience was hesitant to see the group leave. Being in the presence of a true legend who has been such an important figure in the bluegrass world for 60 years and who has performed on over 170 albums was truly an amazing experience. Stanley will celebrate his 80th birthday on Feb. 25 as the group continues to tour the U.S. in the coming months. Here’s to a true legend and many more wonderful performances yet to come. As a fellow audience member put it, “We’ll see you next year, Ralph.”



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