With 67 years of performing under his belt, Dr. Ralph Stanley
announced this summer that his next tour would be his last. His farewell tour kicked off a few weeks ago and runs through mid-2014. Stanley is flanked by a revolving cast of players that comprise the Clinch Mountain Boys, among them his grandson and lead singer Nathan Stanley.
Walking into The ArtsCenter during soundcheck last Monday evening, the smell of Allen & Son BBQ filled the theater. Nathan Stanley attempted to wrangle the group for an extended soundcheck, but the allure of the Pittsboro institution's barbecue proved too great. Out in the lobby, ArtsCenter staff Brad Porter and Art Menius made final preparations for the sold-out crowd, which had begun entering the building. Merchandise tables offered CDs from every member of the group as well as discs from throughout Stanley's long and storied career.
As the lights lowered in the theater, the humming crowd hushed to silence. A standing ovation greeted Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys as they took the stage. This was their second sold-out show at The ArtsCenter this year; the first, in January, opened The ArtsCenter's 10th annual American Roots Series.
Throughout the evening, the group showcased songs that reflect the backbone of bluegrass music as written and performed by Ralph and Carter Stanley. With some guidance from his grandson, the 86-year-old Stanley demonstrated the quintessential high lonesome sound that has earned him many accolades (including the Presidential Medal of Freedom) on "Man of Constant Sorrow," "Rank Stranger" and the always haunting "Oh Death." When he wasn't singing, Dr. Stanley sat tapping his foot along as each Clinch Mountain Boy got a chance to feature their material.
Stanley's life has been a fascinating one, with many highs and lows. His must-read book, Man of Constant Sorrow
, details the long road traveled to this farewell tour. Although some question whether it's worth seeing Stanley in concert now, since his role in the performance is only occasional, when he steps to the mic and lets out that high harmony, the answer is easy. Go see him as many times as you can before that stunning sound fades away entirely.
Below are two clips from the performance, including Dewey Brown of Snow Camp, N.C., on fiddle. Thanks to Alysse Miller for her work on this piece.
Ralph & Nathan Stanley, "Rank Stranger"
Dewey Brown, "Lee Highway Blues"