Ricky Skaggs preaches bluegrass at Copper Country
“Country music and bluegrass music are not the same thing,” said 14-time Grammy Award winner Ricky Skaggs, who plays a free show at Copper Country Sunday afternoon with his band, Kentucky Thunder. “They’re cousins but they’re not always kissing cousins,” he joked before naming some of the differences – that country is based more in electric music and often features a lead singer with a backup band, whereas in bluegrass “every member is just as important as the other.” Famous in both genres, Skaggs got his start in bluegrass at the tender age of 5 when his father, Hobert, gave him a mandolin after hearing him harmonizing with his mother from across the room. Hobert taught him the chords G, C and D, and within two weeks the young prodigy was making chord changes all by himself. At age 6, when Bill Monroe played Martha, Kentucky, the bluegrass great conceded to the crowd’s demands and invited “Little Ricky Skaggs” onstage to play. One year later Skaggs made his Grand Ole Opry debut and performed with bluegrass legends Flatt & Scruggs on TV, earning his first paycheck. While Skaggs focused on bluegrass throughout his early 20s, he turned his attention to mainstream country music in the late 1970s when he joined Emmylou Harris’s Hot Band, describing it as “a good opportunity for me to move out of my bluegrass comfort zone into a new style of music.” In 1981 he released his own first country album on Epic Records, and the achievements and accolades started to roll in, including 12 No. 1 country hits, eight awards from the Country Music Association and four Grammy Awards during his years with the label. Legendary guitarist Chet Atkins credited Skaggs with “single-handedly saving country music.” The year 1996 saw a return to his bluegrass roots, however, after Skaggs experienced the life-changing losses of both his father and “Father of Bluegrass” Bill Monroe. That, coupled with a growing dissatisfaction with the way country music was heading toward bigger and flashier shows in the mid 1990s, led him to establish his own record label, Skaggs Family Records, in 1997. “I’ve always been what I consider a concert artist,” he said. “All I ever wanted was for people to listen to the music,” Skaggs said.The label also allowed him to get back to where he left off 10 years before, he said. Since then, Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder, have released an amazing 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated classics, earning the prestigious award for eight of them along with a long list of other awards. “This group of guys meets my approval every night,” Skaggs said of the band. “Each and every one of the pickers in Kentucky Thunder totally amazes me in every show … and that, to me, outweighs any award we could ever win.” In July they released “Country Hits Bluegrass Style” featuring many of Skaggs’ oft-requested country hits but with a bluegrass twist, including a new rendition of the hit song, “Country Boy.” As good as the original recording was, Skaggs said, “this new cut on this album I just think is better, over the top. We colored outside the lines,” he said, and “just had a ball in the studio making this record.”
In addition to Ricky Skaggs, this weekend’s Copper Country festival will feature Jimmie Vaughan, Randall McKinnon, Desciples, The Long Players, North Mississippi Allstars Duo, Tim O’Brien, Taj Mahal Trio, Winfield’s Locket and Great American Taxi.”I’ll be glad to see him and hear his music,” Skaggs said of Vaughan, whose performance follows his own 3:15 slot at 4:40 p.m. Sunday. “As a matter a fact, I was just watching him on YouTube recently. I love his guitar playing.” The three-day celebration kicks off tonight with a 5 p.m. performance by Randall McKinnon and showing of “Rango” (PG) at dusk. At 6 p.m. Saturday, check out the Colorado State Final of the Texaco Country Showdown, a competition that seeks the most promising country music talent in America, sending winners on to the regional and possibly national competitions. There will also be an arts exhibition and festival, mechanical bull riding, and western-themed kids’ activities including pony rides and a petting zoo.
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