Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder
Ladies and gentlemen, make way for Kentucky Thunder. No, not the kind that rattled Lexington last weekend. We’re talking about the champion bluegrass brigade overseen by one of the state’s foremost country-bred innovators and newly announced International Bluegrass Music Association Hall of Fame inductee Ricky Skaggs.
On Saturday, Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will perform at Renfro Valley, roughly two- and-a-half hours from the Lawrence County digs where his celebrated career began.
Fellow Kentuckians know his story, but for those perhaps new to the region, a quick recap is in order: A champion mandolinist, fiddler, vocalist and songwriter, Skaggs became a member of Ralph Stanley’s Clinch Mountain Boys in 1971, landed in Lexington for J.D. Crowe’s groundbreaking first version of the New South, then stayed in Central Kentucky with fellow Crowe alum Jerry Douglas to form Boone Creek. By the end of the decade, Skaggs was touring the country as Rodney Crowell’s replacement in Emmylou Harris’s famed Hot Band.
His own career took off in the 1980s, leading a wave of neo- traditionalism in country music before a scholarly return to his bluegrass roots, the launch of his own record label and the formation of Kentucky Thunder brought the 1990s to a close.
And that’s the short version.
What one hears on a Skaggs record — whether they were cut with the almost orchestrally inclined support of Kentucky Thunder or such seemingly unlikely collaborators as Bruce Hornsby — is a sense of fearlessness. It’s always been in his music, when you think about it. But Skaggs’ clarity of stylistic purpose, assuredness of singing, boundless respect for the faith and tradition that sit at the heart of bluegrass music and monster instrumental chops (especially on mandolin) have never sounded sharper than on 2003’s “The Three Pickers” (cut with Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs), 2008’s “Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass” (a salute to 1940s-era string music patriarchs recorded with Kentucky Thunder) and 2013’s “Cluck Ol’ Hen” (a concert album with Hornsby).
Of course, none of this should suggest Skaggs is sitting still in 2018. He turned 64 two weeks ago, wound up the Ryman Auditorium’s long-running summer bluegrass series and is being inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame this year.
“Country music is often perceived as having two subgenres — the music you hear on country radio and the music you don’t,” wrote the New York Times in a preview of a Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder concert at the Prospect Park Bandshell in June. “Few artists expose the futility of that division better than Mr. Skaggs.”
Houndmouth at Manchester
The summer still has a few more concert surprises left to share. New Albany-Louisville fave Houndmouth is heading back to Lexington for an Aug. 25 show at Manchester Music Hall, 899 Manchester St. In keeping with the season, the performance will be venue’s first ever outdoor show. Fresh off a hometown showing at Forecastle in Louisville two weekends ago, a realigned, seven-member, saxophone savvy Houndmouth — still with founding members Matt Myers, Zak Appleby and Shane Cody on board — will be showcasing the heavily pop- leaning tunes from its newly released third album, “Golden Age.” Tickets for the concert, billed as “Houndmouth Presents Endless Summer,” are $35 with early bird tickets discounted for $29.50. They’re available through ticketfly.com . Gates will open for the Aug. 25 show at 4 p.m. We will be previewing the show in detail closer to the performance date. For further ticket info, call 859-537-7321 or go to manchestermusichall.com.
With a history that reaches back to 1962, when it was known as the Ohio Valley Jazz Festival, what is today the Cincinnati Music Festival has become the largest R&B and soul music gathering in the country. How large, you ask? Let’s just say Paul Brown Stadium has served as the event’s performance home ever since the facility opened in 2000. It was staged at the now demolished Riverfront Stadium for decades before that.
The stars will be out again for the festival’s two-night stand this weekend. Tonight, Gap Band founder and mega-popular solo artist Charlie Wilson will headline. Wilson’s newest album, “In It to Win It,” entered the all-genre Billboard 200 chart at No. 7 upon its release last year.
On Saturday, celebrated actress, singer and poet Jill Scott tops an impressive bill that includes The Roots and Cincy’s own Bootsy Collins. Coincidentally, The Roots were pivotal during the formative years of Scott’s career. She made her performance debut as part of a Roots show after being discovered by band drummer, co-founder and co-frontman Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson. Showtime Friday and Saturday will be 7:30 p.m. Tickets for each night are $60 to $150 by calling 1-800-745-3000 or visiting cincymusicfestival.com.