Prescription Bluegrass Reviews SIMPLY BLUEGRASS from Country's Family Reunion!

(Ed. Note:  The premier broadcast is tonight with repeats on Saturday and Sunday. Check local listings)


Country's Family Reunion



Bill Hallock 0448 cropReviewed by:  

W.J. Hallock

When was the last time, as an adult, that you felt like a kid on Christmas morning? That “just can’t wait” anxiety has you're grinnin’ from ear to ear? I can tell you exactly the last time I was that excited…..November 12th, 2013 at 8 AM! I had just arrived at North Star Studios, in Nashville, TN. for the video taping of a special bluegrass version of Country’s Family Reunion, entitled SIMPLY BLUEGRASS (a production of Gabriel Communications)  and every where I looked there was another one of my favorite entertainers.

Co-host’s Ricky Skaggs and Bill Anderson, ably abetted by producer Larry Black, Ronnie Reno, Doyle Lawson, Larry Cordle, Mac Wiseman, The Whites, The Gibson Brothers, The Roys, Carl Jackson, Sierra Hull, Dailey and Vincent, Sam Bush, Jesse McReynolds and on and on….. they were all there, shaking hands, smiling and saying hello….. and I hadn’t even been there five minutes! The day started off GREAT and only got better!

It had taken the powers that be from RFD and Ricky over a year and a half to put the guest list together and to coordinate so many schedules to get all the invitees in one place at one time. From the familial ambiance

"Getting to spend about fifteen minutes one on one with Ricky Skaggs had to be the high point of my day. "

and laughter as everyone was taking their seats, it was obvious from the get go that this was going to be a “Family Reunion” to remember! Each guest would be using the same “house band” to back them up when it came their turn to perform, so Ricky was adamant that those musicians be the absolute best available. Barry Bales was on bass, Adam Steffey on mandolin, Bryan Sutton on guitar, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and claw hammer banjo and Ron Stewart played banjo. This band was so good that even listening to them tune up was worth my trip from Oklahoma to Tennessee!

All the stars had already been to “make up,” and most had been through this recording process before, but there was still a nervous anticipation as the cameras began to roll.

The actual videotaping was done on a closed set, with video monitors out in the hall and in the dining room and still photography room so visitors, family and press could watch what was going on. There was this wonderful mixture of the recorded sound coming off the TV monitors and the live sound leaking out of the set that gave the music a stereo, yet homey, down home warmth that filled the studio halls. It was also obvious that the control room personnel knew exactly what they were doing. This was first class professionalism at work!

I started taking notes, trying to listen and write at the same time. I didn’t want to miss a thing, but I soon realized that there was no way to absorb all the details of who was singing what song or who was telling a story of personal bluegrass history AND enjoy the show at the same time. I realized I was going to just have to kick back and enjoy myself. The details would take care of themselves.

"Del McCoury was more than glad to show me just about every scratch, nick and wear mark on his 60’s Martin guitar."

The time just seemed to fly by….. and the friendships that seemed to overflow the studio walls and the stories were just beginning to flow in earnest when it was time for the first “artist” break. My youngest daughter, a sophomore in college, had given me strict instructions to get her pictures of her favorite bluegrass star, Dierks Bentley. Believe it or not, there is an entire generation that considers him a bluegrass artist!

As I made my way to the hall with my newly acquired I-Phone, I literally ran right into Dierks! I introduced myself and explained my predicament to him, and he immediately agreed to join in to help make me “father of the year” in Oklahoma.

Within hours, Dierks’ friendly face was all over campus at ECU in Ada, OK. Thank YOU Mr. Bentley! I also have to say that his contributions to the show will go a long way toward preserving bluegrass music to younger audiences. Having him on the show was a stroke of production genius, and he fit in perfectly.

I must say that my inexperience using the dreaded I-Phone turned out to be an asset because just about every artist gave me lessons in how to use it and then patiently stood for photos! It seemed the only picture taking failure of the day was when Larry Black and I tried to figure out how to take a “selfie.”


Fortunately, Larry’s wife knew more about the equipment than either of us did, she could tell we were bound to fail and took pictures of Larry and me together. I don’t think there’s a more cordial or friendly man around than Mr. Black. And thank you Mrs. Black!

There were so many times throughout the day that I was able to spend a few minutes just conversing with my musical heroes. Del McCoury was more than glad to show me just about every scratch, nick and wear mark on his 60’s Martin guitar. I found young Mr. Lee Roy, of “The Roys” with his sister Elaine, to be a very astute and knowledgeable fan of each first generation star that was there. Lee said they felt they were walkin’ in mighty “tall cotton," but when they sang, they more than proved they were worthy of being on the show. Ronnie Reno seemed most intent on taking care of Mac Wiseman in his wheel chair, and seeing to his needs. Mac may have slowed down physically, but he was still sharp as a tack and witty as ever. My favorite piano player, Buck White, is a hoot! He wouldn’t let me take his picture until I looked and made sure he didn’t have anything stuck in his teeth after the lunch break. Once his “tooth picking” was done, it was hard to get a good picture because we were both laughing so hard.

Getting to spend about fifteen minutes one on one with Ricky Skaggs had to be the high point of my day. The show was really building momentum musically, and there were also a lot of very touching stories starting to pour from the cast that were starting to make the show even more memorable. Ricky seemed very pleased that Mr. Bill Monroe was the focus of a lot of the discussions, and he was chomping at the bit to see just where this show was going to lead. You could tell he was a fan of every one on the set that day and glad to be a part of it.

As two time IBMA Entertainer’s of the Year, The Gibson Brothers, Leigh and Eric, have dominated the Award shows, and deservedly so. They also gave this show it’s musical high point.   They had already sung their chosen song, “Dying For Someone To Live For,” when Bill Anderson asked them to also do their chart topping single “They Called It Music.”

"...there were moments during the day that I can only hope weren’t lost to the cutting room floor."

The poignant raw emotion and pride that Eric and Leigh poured into their performance brought some of the cast to tears. It was bluegrass history and magic all caught on video tape!

I have not seen the edited and finished DVD yet…. but, there were moments during the day that I can only hope weren’t lost to the cutting room floor. As an example, the lively, first person account’s from many about Benny Martin and the importance of his 8-string fiddle. It seemed to be a consensus that his solo on Flatt and Scruggs’ “I’ll Go Steppin’ Too” is the best bluegrass fiddling ever. Another was hearing Carl Jackson relate a story from his very young days starting his career on the road with “Jim and Jessie.” The story, and everyone’s reaction to it, was priceless.

This show starts it’s TV rotation Friday evening, March 7th, on RFD, and I can say for certain that the show that was recorded was fantastic! I’ll be watching, that’s for sure, and I’m hoping that the fun, laughter, music, stories and characters that I had the chance to meet and enjoy are as charming as I remember. Don’t miss it!


Simply Bluegrass Photos By PhilJohnson © 2013



Simply Bluegrass Photos courtesy Gabriel Communications


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