Marty Stuart Shines

This appeared in the Festival Roots Blog - September 13, 2006

For me, the surprise of the festival was Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives. Of course I know that Stuart is a fine musician, but my experience is that mainstream Nashville acts frequently fall flat at the Strawberry Music Festival (Camp Mather, CA). Stuart, of course, is part of the Nashville royalty, a favorite of radio, video and award-show programmers. (I draw a distinction between a Stuart and someone like Rodney Crowell or Rosanne Cash, who edge closer to the Americana end of the country music universe. Performers from that end of the spectrum--Steve Earle, say, or Guy Clark--are always well at home in a Strawberry lineup.)

And Stuart came on with all the trappings of traditional Nashville--big hair, leather pants, guitarist in a Porter Wagoner nudie suit. But unlike some other Nashville artists who have played Strawberry, Stuart went out of his way to customize his set for the Strawberry audience. Yes, he played many of his radio hits, such a "The Whiskey Ain't Workin' Anymore." But he leavened that with plenty of hard-core bluegrass and gospel--"In the Pines" and "Working on a Building," for example.

I shouldn't have been surprised. This is the guy who started out at age 14 with Lester Flatt and who was a disciple (and son-in-law) of the great Johnny Cash. His audience rapport was terrific and his band's musicianship was outstanding. Then he topped all that with his great original song, "Badlands," about the Lakota Indian tribe and some really unexpected covers--the Byrds' "Mr. Spaceman" and the Bee Gee's "Stayin' Alive."

All in all, a near perfect Saturday night closer.

By Dan Ruby

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