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Ralph Stanley at St. John’s Presbyterian

Filed under: — adrian @ 8:54 pm

Last night I saw Ralph Stanley at St. John’s Presbyterian Church in Berkeley. Laurie Lewis opened. Tickets were due to my wicked smarts and quickness with the internet in responding to a flavorpill quiz.

Laurie Lewis (and Tom Rossum and the Right Hand Band) was up first. She’s a local bluegrass fiddler and singer. Her band’s set was good and her band’s tight. It went by pretty quick.

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys came up next. Right at the beginning of the set, Laurie came back on and made a big deal because it was the eve of Ralph’s 80th Birthday. They had a cake and a proclamation from Berkeley’s mayor.

Once the festivities ended, the set started in earnest. Ralph introduced the members one by one (including Ralph Stanley II and Nathan Stanley, the grandson) and they did a short number featuring that member. They then did a few full band numbers, Ralph did ‘O Death’ solo and a capella, and then went back around featuring each member that had a solo CD out (which was most everyone). From there it was a couple more full band numbers before the set ended. Ralph didn’t do all that much in the set aside from singing on the full band numbers and playing clawhammer banjo for one song. It seemed a bit obvious to me that this was, at this point, a franchise. They were selling the Stanley name and artistic vision more than his actual musicianship. It sort of reminded me when I saw the Count Basie Orchestra 15 years after Count’s death.

All of that said, his band was tight. When you’re Ralph Stanley, you can get some good pickers for your band, certainly. Going into the show I was actually a bit afraid that the show would drag on a bit, but, even though the set was well over an hour, it didn’t bore or drag on. For Ralph’s performances himself, he certainly can still sing and play a mean clawhammer banjo. I enjoyed the night.

(more photos after the break)

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