Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby | 10.04.08

bh-rs_-credit_erik_anderson.jpgWith the Kentucky Thunder roaring, Skaggs and Hornsby moved through two solid sets of tunes from their collaborative album and each of their individual careers, taking turns on lead vocals, swapping stories and engaging in light banter with each other and the audience.

 

Photo: Erik Anderson 


Blanche M. Touhill Center for Performing Arts Center, St.Louis

I’m a very lucky girl. For the second time in less than two weeks, I had the pleasure of watching a pair of highly accomplished musicians from diverse backgrounds come together in an unlikely collaboration to make beautiful music in an intimate setting. First was the stellar Alison Krauss and Robert Plant show at the Fox. Then, last weekend, the pairing of Grammy-winning bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and his world-class band, Kentucky Thunder, with singer/songwriter and piano virtuoso Bruce Hornsby on the stage of the well-appointed Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri, St. Louis.

 

No stranger to collaboration, Hornsby has played on more than 100 records beyond his own 10. Last year, Hornsby and Skaggs combined the best of Skaggs’ musical talents and Hornsby’s songwriting skills to produce the aptly named album, Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby, adding Hornsby’s unparalleled piano to the core bluegrass instruments of mandolin, guitar, bass, fiddle and banjo.

 

The band, which in addition to Skaggs and Hornsby includes: Jerry Douglas on dobro, Stuart Duncan on fiddle, Gordon Kennedy on guitar, Cody Kilby on banjo and guitar, Andy Leftwich on fiddle and mandolin, Jim Mills on banjo, Mark Fain on bass, Sonny Emory on drums, and Paul Brewster on harmony vocals, took the stage promptly at 8 p.m., introduced by Keith Dudding of KDHX’s "Down Yonder" show.

 

From the get-go,one thing was clear – these were some of the most highly skilled musicians on the planet. With the Kentucky Thunder roaring, Skaggs and Hornsby moved through two solid sets of tunes from their collaborative album and each of their individual careers, taking turns on lead vocals, swapping stories and engaging in light banter with each other and the audience. They even invited anyone in the audience to come up on stage and dance if the mood struck them – and a few people took them up on it. 

 

The boys kicked things off with some traditional bluegrass fare including Bill Monroe’s "Toy Heart" and "Bluegrass Breakdown" (in which one struggled to even keep up with Skaggs’ lightning-fast picking), and folk classic "Darlin’ Corey."  They then segued into some Hornsby favorites, but not the way we are used to hearing them. A more upbeat version of his anthem "The Way it Is" featured Skaggs taking turns with Hornsby on vocals. A reworked "Mandolin Rain" was darker and more intense than Hornsby’s original 1986 pop tune. Although they sounded like brand new songs, Hornsby’s signature piano style wove through them, slipping in and out of the banjo and mandolin solos.

 

They played a good deal of the songs from the collaboration album and closed out the first set with one inspired by Hornsby’s childhood called "Dreaded Spoon."  Hornsby introduced the song by telling the story that inspired it about how his dad used to take all the kids to the Dairy Queen or Tasty Freeze for ice cream. When they asked what he wanted, he’d say "nothing," but when they returned with their scoops, he’d pull out a spoon he kept in the glove box and delve into their treats with it.

 

After a brief intermission which involved standing in a very long line to get a drink, the group resumed with another traditional, "Sheep Shell Corn." Hornsby fans got a treat in a couple more reworked versions of his originals "White Wheeled Limousine" and "Valley Road."  The second set ended with an unlikely cover from Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby, Rick James’  "Super Freak." That’s right, you heard me -"Super Freak" bluegrass style. It was almost as much fun as The Gourds’ bluegrass version of "Gin and Juice."

 

Having seen Hornsby play many times before and being a big fan, I suppose my only "complaint" about this show would be that I could have used more Bruce – the way he is meant to be heard, banging the keys. Although bluegrass was clearly the focus here, it seemed his piano was drowned out at times by the multitude of stringed instruments; and Horsby’s piano should never be drowned out. However, this is a small discrepancy in what was an incredible performance by some of the most talented musicians playing today.

 

As this was my first concert at the Touhill Center, it deserves mentioning. The venue is simply stunning with an intimate feel and incredible sound. It was the perfect setting for an acoustic show such as this one and, from what I can tell, there isn’t a bad seat in the house. Sometimes I have trouble "sitting" through concerts like this – ones that are more technically complex, where you really must sit still, pay attention and listen to every note (I’m usually more of a rock n’ roll kinda girl) – but I left the theater Saturday night feeling like I was privy to a singular musical experience and with a new appreciation for bluegrass music. | Amy Burger

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