In a promotional documentary for his 2011 gospel album A Mother's Prayer, Ralph Stanley, now 85, handles the topic of his age with typical frankness: "As old as I am, I figured [that album] might be the last one I might be able to do. I don't know of anyone that's as old as I am that's still singing." The years apparent in Stanley's voice have only made his singing—confident and plaintive, aged but still urgent—that much more poignant, affording the gospel and traditional numbers he sings the wisdom of experience and finality. Thanks to his voice's star turn in O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Stanley's position as an American treasure has become a widely acknowledged fact, not a notion cloistered to folk and country music obsessives.
And on the note of uncertain futures, Stanley's appearance in Carrboro starts The ArtsCenter's 10th annual American Roots Series, one of the state's most thoughtfully programmed schedules of music. Late last year, citing budget issues, The ArtsCenter laid off Tess Mangum Ocaña, the series' mastermind. Enjoy it while it's here.—Grayson Currin