Saturday, October 13, 2007

Stamford Disappoints Living Bluegrass Legend

Midway through last night’s show at the Palace Theatre, Ralph Stanley looked out at us and said, “You’re the first place we haven’t sold out in a while.” The audience was collectively embarrassed. There were 200 of us in a place that seats 1,580. Then, breaking the performer/audience relationship, he asked, “How did you all find out about this?” Silence.

“Internet,” someone called out. “Paper,” someone said. “Radio."
What could we say to the man who sang “O Death” in O Brother Where Art Thou (scroll down to listen), won Best Country Male Vocal for the song, and is named as an influence by Bob Dylan, Emmylou Harris and Jerry Garcia?

After an awkward pause, he looked at his band and chuckled, “I guess we’re not popular in the northeast.” I almost died of shame. He picked up his banjo, played a bit, then said, “I’d give the same show to 10 people as I’d give to 1,000… because those 10 people bought a ticket and deserve to see the same show.”

Ah, Stamford? In that analogy, you were the ten people. I’m not asking you to listen to country music- bluegrass is different from country, anyway- but I will ask you to give props to one of the more important musicians in US musical history.

I look with great fondness on those of you who attended. I was tempted to personally invite you back to my house and ask the band to come too. With bluegrass, you really shouldn’t be sitting in a red velvet seat. We should have left the Palace, carpooled to my house, and had a real party in the backyard.

Stamford? I don’t blame you. I blame myself. I did not publicize this event, and the only peep I heard was from the Stamford Times online. (The ST site is completely un-navigable, so do an RSS feed.) And, I’m sure there will be nothing on the bluegrass show in the Advocate today. Just checked; nope, there’s not. Maybe they should hire a freelance writer- I'm not sure who- to cover the cool events.

Side note/rant: All I can say is, one of the local papers had better cover the Haitian Book Festival today. Don’t get me started on the fact that the Ferguson did not include the book fest on their weekly calendar published in yesterday’s ST. There was a teensy-weensy 5 sentence brief on the Book Fest in the SA today (the morning OF the event), in the “Area Briefs” section, right next to the “Library Schedules Toddler Time” brief. That’s why I started Stamford Talk .

Concert notes: Ralph Stanley is 80 and can still f’ing sing. He sounded weak on the opening song, and at the end of it, he stepped back and coughed. I felt us all get nervous. Was he old, and we were going to have to pretend he sounded OK? Was he going to have a heart attack right on stage? I watched closely, and he got progressively stronger as the show went on. Ralph’s band, the Clinch Mountain Boys, had banjo, violin, mandolin, 2 guitars, and great tenor harmony from Frank, the upright bass player. The “big fiddle,” Ralph called it. Frank has played with Ralph for 38 years.

Near the end of the show, Ralph sang a couple of songs a cappella: “O Death” and “Me and God.” I liked the line, “Me and God… you can say we’re like two peas in a pod.” Click the links above to see YouTube videos.

The audience clearly loved the show. Many were star-struck; Ralph Stanley is a big deal. He received the NEA’s National Heritage Fellowship for lifetime achievement and was awarded the “Living Legend” medal by the Library of Congress in 2000. Thank you to the Palace for bringing in an unusual show. I take back any bad things I said about your ticket prices.

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