Two legendary bluegrass players bring their fancy pickin' to Innsbrook. 

Mountain Sounds

Bluegrass fans get a huge helping of the high lonesome sound's best this Saturday when traditionalists Ricky Skaggs and Del McCoury headline a day of fast picking and haunting harmonies at the Innsbrook Pavilion. Local 'grass favorites The Slack Family, Cook County Bluegrass, the East River Boys and Local Exchange will open the show.

As pure players, both Skaggs and McCoury are steeped in experience with the best the genre has to offer. Skaggs learned his lessons early as a teen-age member of Ralph Stanley's band. Through the '70s, before forming his own outfit, he also played with J.D. Crowe and the New South, and in Emmylou Harris' Hot Band. McCoury worked with Bill Monroe, among others, before starting a band full-time in the early '90s.

As bandleaders, they've surrounded themselves with some of acoustic music's finest players and the resulting sounds are similar. Both are also touring to promote new projects. McCoury's "Del and the Boys" was released in July, while Skaggs' "History of the Future" hit stores earlier this month.

But while both Skaggs, 47, and McCoury, 62, are similarly respectful of tradition, they infuse their respective acoustic sounds with distinct personalities. McCoury occasionally veers slightly left-of-center with top-shelf rearrangements of popular blues tunes or a Tom Petty rocker. Skaggs typically injects his show with gospel influences. But both hold to the old-time sounds and soul of Appalachian bluegrass.

Unlike Skaggs, McCoury built his award-filled career in fits and starts. He played with Monroe and California bands through the '60s until family responsibilities took him off the road as a full-time player. He held jobs as varied as nuclear-plant construction worker and tree cutter until his family was grown and gone and there was some security in the bank. Returning to music, McCoury found an agent and began touring again, eventually moving to Nashville and a higher profile in 1992.

Skaggs, on the other hand, honed his bluegrass chops steadily, and he even had a long and successful career in country music during the '80s. As a respected bluegrass mandolin player, guitarist and singer in his previous years, Skaggs caught flack from mountain music purists when he began topping the country charts with his down-home yet decidedly radio-friendly tunes. But after a run of 11 No.1 country songs from 1981 to 1989 and a slew of industry awards, Skaggs found himself in unfriendly territory when the country music industry again changed focus. In 1997, Skaggs shifted gears and returned to his bluegrass roots. He also founded Skaggs Family Records and committed himself to traditional bluegrass for the long haul, making the music he wants the way he wants.

Saturday's event promises to deliver great bluegrass talent in spades with plenty of fancy pickin'. Maybe rural music and a Richmond's suburban West End seem strange company. But suspend disbelief for a day. The combination is sure to conjure some first-rate musical moments.


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