Artist-in-Residence: Ricky Skaggs: Country Boy at Heart

November 18, 2013

Ricky Skaggs decided to focus on his love of country music-and his significant contributions to the genre-in the opening night of two special performances as the 2013 artist-in-residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.

The foundation of the concert spotlighted the game-changing hits that Skaggs created in the 1980s, when he initiated a movement that helped produce a groundswell of young, tradition-based country stars, including the Judds, Reba McEntire, George Strait, Randy Travis, and Dwight Yoakam.

Opening with “Heartbroke,” a Guy Clark composition that Skaggs took to #1 on the country charts in 1982, the veteran singer combed through his country repertoire, presenting spirited versions of “I Don’t Care,” “Cajun Moon,” “Honey (Open That Door),” “Highway 40 Blues,” and “Don’t Get Above Your Raising.”

Typical of Skaggs’s wide-ranging talents and tastes, the program broadened to embrace some of his other musical loves, as he touched on old-time Carter Family acoustic songs, honky-tonk, and gospel, old and new. As he often has across the decades, he highlighted the heartfelt beauty of family members making music together as well as the inventive surprises that emerge from collaborating with other brilliantly talented artists, both from inside and outside of country music.

The evening’s guests included those with strong ties to his musical history as well as a couple of multi-talented friends who, like Skaggs, gained fame by supporting their singing and songwriting with superb musicianship. Guest stars included Peter Frampton, Emmylou Harris, Gordon Kennedy, Brad Paisley, and the Whites (which includes Skaggs’s wife, Sharon, sister-in-law Cheryl, and father-in-law Buck). Skaggs’s daughter Molly also contributed impressive vocals and instrumentation (including clawhammer banjo) on several songs, notably on a duet with her father on the Carter Family classic “Single Girl, Married Girl.”

Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum director Kyle Young introduced the evening by touching upon Skaggs’s history and enlightening the audience on what they were about to experience. “You are about to be uplifted by a rich and joyous evening of classic American music,” he said, “rooted in ancient tones and hosted and curated by country music statesman Ricky Skaggs.”

Young went on to explain the tenets of the museum’s artist-in-residence series. “Presented once a year, this residency is an honor bestowed on an accomplished artist who has produced a large and exemplary body of work with unmistakable cultural impact,” he said. “To these noteworthy musicians, we offer our stage as a canvas for the creation of a meaningful musical experience often heightened by collaborations with others. What you hear tonight will happen only once, just for you.”

Skaggs’s performances took on added meaning as the first public concerts at the new CMA Theater, a key component of the museum’s $100 million expansion to a 350,000-square-foot complex. The veteran recognized the monumental moment by creating a “Hall of Fame Dedication Proclamation” he read before launching into the music.

After the Christian singer dedicated the building to God, he asked “that this building would be used to make great and glorious music, and that the music housed and archived in this building, and even music yet to be made, would make a joyful noise to the nations and bring peace and love.”

He also encouraged the museum’s ongoing educational mission by decreeing that the building “be used to teach the young ones about the fathers and mothers who came before them, who paid a great price for the music they loved and cherished. May we always be grateful for their sacrifice and achievements. May this Hall of Fame truly be a hall to honor their memory.”

Skaggs then sang part of “Working on a Building,” a Bill Monroe classic which he sang at a groundbreaking event in 2011 that marked the beginning of the construction.

Previous artists-in-residence in the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s annual series include Jack Clement, Earl Scruggs, Tom T. Hall, Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson, Jerry Douglas, Vince Gill, Buddy Miller, Connie Smith, and Kenny Rogers.

As the eleventh artist-in-residence at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Skaggs mentioned the pressure he felt to add to the legacy of the highly regarded concert series. “I haven’t had a full night’s sleep since I heard about this,” he said, emphasizing how much pressure he felt to make each show special. “As much as I’m excited about tonight and tomorrow night, I’ll sure be glad when Wednesday gets here.”

At one point, Skaggs led Cheryl and Sharon White to the front of the stage, leaving the microphones several yards behind them. Noting the expense involved in building such a special new theater, Skaggs thought the vocal trio should test the room’s acoustics. The three vocalists then harmonized, without amplification, on the gospel standard “Talk About Suffering.”

After the song’s performance brought a thunderous ovation from a crowd of more than six hundred, Skaggs quipped, “I think it passed the test.”

Considering the strength of the entire evening’s performance, Skaggs should now rest easy, knowing he reached the high artistic bar he set for himself.

He returns on Tuesday, November 19, for a bluegrass-themed show featuring special guests Celtic music artists Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill, Bruce Hornsby, Alison Krauss, Del McCoury, and the Whites.

Set List

  • “Heartbroke”
  • “I Don’t Care”
  • “Cajun Moon”
  • “If I Needed You” (with Sharon White)
  • “Honey (Open That Door)” (Buck White on grand piano, Sharon and Cheryl White on harmony vocals)
  • “Highway 40 Blues” (with Brad Paisley on vocals and lead guitar)
  • “Talk About Suffering”
  • “Darkest Hour Is Just Before Dawn” (with Emmylou Harris)
  • “Gold Watch and Chain” (with Harris, Molly Skaggs, and the Whites)
  • “Single Girl, Married Girl” (with Molly Skaggs)
  • “Can’t Shake Jesus” (with Gordon Kennedy)
  • “My Cup Runneth Over” (with Peter Frampton, Gordon Kennedy, Molly Skaggs, and Cheryl and Sharon White)
  • “Don’t Get Above Your Raising” (Frampton, Kennedy, Paisley, Molly Skaggs, Cheryl and Sharon White)