All photos by Alan Mayor
Boy, I sure hope what I witnessed on Tuesday afternoon (9/27) is the beginning of a new IBMA tradition.
Under a cloudless blue sky with temperatures in the balmy 70s, The Del McCoury Band presided over an outdoor concert on the Ryman Plaza. The show was staged to salute the 100th anniversary of the birth of Bill Monroe.
It was a star-dappled event, with several bluegrass celebrities dropping by to pay their respects. It was also a dandy way to publicize and promote the World of Bluegrass conference and Bluegrass Fan Fest now happening in downtown Nashville. The show was free, so lunch-hour downtown workers, music fans and casual passers by could experience the music. Ordinarily, all of the activities are indoors in the Nashville Convention Center.
“Scholars and historians disagree over every other genre and where it began,” said Mayor Karl Dean to the sun-splashed crowd. “We know where bluegrass began. It began right here, in December 1945, at The Ryman Auditorium.” In 2006, a Tennessee state historical marker was erected in front of the venue to commemorate this.
“We can’t have enough live music in Nashville,” Dean continued. “We will do more of this.” I, for one, certainly hope so. Dean’s Music City Music Council supported the free show, as did the Ryman, Metro Nashville Government and 650 AM WSM radio.
The Del McCoury Band opened at noon with a half-hour set of Monroe classics. Then Vince Gill appeared to sing “Rose of Old Kentucky,” and the audience went nuts.
“He had a handle on that tune,” said Del in admiration. “I couldn’t do it.”
Vince and the McCoury band were in perfect harmony on “Crying Holy Unto the Lord.” Before exiting, Vinnie blew a big smooch at the crowd.
Bluegrass Hall of Fame member Jesse McReynolds was next. “Vince Gill is hard to follow, but I followed Dolly Parton the other day, so I guess I can do this,” Jesse quipped. His guest set included an awesome mandolin duel with Ronnie McCoury.
Show performers Dierks Bentley and Sam Bush were chatting at stage left, so I grabbed both for a three-way hug while Jeff White was taking the stage to sing “The Cold Hard Facts.” Dierks, Sam, Tim O’Brien and Larry Stephenson also performed Monroe-saluting guest sets.
The gentle breezes made the weather perfect. The music was beyond perfect. On the edge of the plaza, the Mas Tacos van, the Cupcake Bus and the Grilled Cheeserie bus all had fans lined up for lunches. Spotted in the crowd were Darrell Scott, Harry Chapman, David Scarlett, Dan Hays, Judy McDonough, Steve Lowery, Jim Havey, Pete Fisher and Greg Cahill of Special Consensus.
Del McCoury, by the way, is not only a former member of Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys, he is also this year’s Bluegrass Hall of Fame inductee. He had yet another reason for doing the show. Tuesday (9/27) was the digital release date of his Old Memories: The Songs of Bill Monroe tribute album.
This is one of several CDs commemorating the Sept. 13, 1911 birth date of Monroe. First out was Blue Moon of Kentucky: An Instrumental Tribute to Bill Monroe co-starring all-star pickers Mike Scott, Adam Steffey, Bryan Sutton, Tim Stafford, Rob Ickes, Aubrey Haynie, Mike Compton and Ben Isaacs. It’s on Rural Rhythm Records.
Rebel Records has raided its vaults to compile two volumes of folks performing Monroe’s songs. The first is With Body and Soul: A Bluegrass Tribute to Bill Monroe featuring The Seldom Scene, Tony Rice, Peter Rowan, Don Rigsby, IIIrd Tyme Out, The Lonesome River Band and more. The second is Let the Light Shine Down: A Gospel Tribute to Bill Monroe with tracks by The Country Gentlemen, Reno & Smiley, Ralph Stanley, Lost & Found, Dave Evans and others.
Rounder’s entry is Bill Monroe Centennial Celebration: A Classic Bluegrass Tribute. It features vintage tracks by The Grascals, Dailey & Vincent, Claire Lynch, Michael Cleveland, The Nashville Bluegrass Band, The Johnson Mountain Boys, Hazel & Alice, Bobby Osborne & The Rocky Top Express, Blue Highway and more.
It won’t be Bill Monroe’s 100th anniversary next year, but I still think the free outdoor show is a splendid idea. First of all, bluegrass is accustomed to being performed outside, usually at one of the 500-some bluegrass festivals that take place each year.
Second of all, it exposes the public to the conference/fest. By the way, this is not the only way to experience the IBMA event for free. Inside the Renaissance Hotel and Convention Center, there is lots of common space where people make music constantly. If you’re a night owl, no wristband or badge is required at most of the After Hours showcases in the hotel. Just go up in the elevator and disembark when you get to a floor where you hear music. Also, the Exhibit Hall is open to one and all for free on Wednesday (9/28).
Let’s do this again, next year.