Crazy Horse Saloon - Santa Ana, CA in 1989

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How would you like to trade quips with Waylon Jennings, sit five feet away from Merle Haggard and the Strangers or shake hands with Carl Perkins? For the last ten years, the Crazy Horse has been making dreams like these come true for country fans. Along the way, the Crazy Horse has been chosen Nightclub of the Year by the Academy of Country Music for three straight years, and it has developed a reputation for class that keeps both the fans and the performers coming back. No wonder the folks turned out in droves for the Crazy Horse's 10th anniversary celebration Tuesday night.

With a free concert by rising star Marty Stuart as a draw, the Crazy Horse was filled almost to capacity shortly after the doors opened at 6 p.m. Everybody received a door prize of a free cassette of Marty Stuart's new album, "Hillbilly Rock," and representatives of KIK94.3 FM were on hand to give away T-shirts.

Although the Crazy Horse is best know for giving fans a chance to go eyeball-to-eyeball with country's biggest stars, it also occasionally introduces new talent from country's cutting edge. For example, one quiet evening last year you could have spent the night listening to hot Austin tunesmith Darden Smith for the price of a couple of drinks. It seems especially fitting that the Crazy Horse kick off its second decade with Stuart, another young artist who represents country's future.

Stuart's hour and 15 minute set featured his innovative, revved up style of hillbilly rock that touched on influences as diverse as Lester Flatt, Johnny Cash, Buck Owens, Waylon Jennings, Elvis Presley and the Band. In fact, Stuart, a guitar slinger extraordinaire, started his career at 13 as a child prodigy guitarist and mandolin player in Lester Flatt's band and later moved up to the role of lead guitarist for Johnny Cash.

When he struck out on his own in 1986, Stuart dreamed of bringing his high energy version of country to a young audience, but his major label debut on Columbia was just a tad ahead of its time and it sank with only minor impact. Now that country has been invigorated by wild young hillbillies like Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle, the time seems right for Stuart.

Clad in a glittery rhinestone jacket emblazoned with playing cards, dice, a cross, a gun and a rose symbolizing perhaps the quintessential country themes of god, love, death and bad luck, Stuart hit his stride on the second number, "Hillbilly Rock," and he didn't let the energy flag the rest of the night. Mixing the excellent songs from his new album with covers that ran the gamut from Lefty Frizzell's "Long Black Veil" to the Band's "The Shape I'm In," Stuart proved to be a double threat with commanding vocals and blazing guitar picking.

Stuart's hearty baritone didn't dip too deeply into the well but it held its own on tunes like "Lonesome, Ornery and Mean" and "Cry, Cry, Cry," songs associated with Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash respectively. Stuart also had ample opportunity to show off the virtuoso picking style that made him one of the hottest guitars for hire. His transcendent duels with former Ricky Skaggs' sideman Ray Flacke provided the instrumental fireworks of the night.

Although the bulk of his 20-song set was hard charging country rock, Stuart changed pace a couple of times to deliver a soulful bluesy version of "Who Will The Next Fool Be" and a moody rendition of the haunting "Long Black Veil."

Stuart's ability to hold a crowd that was unfamiliar with most of his music showed that he has the charisma and vision, as well as the depth of talent, to break through the glut of hot young performers in country and establish his own mark. The next time he plays the Crazy Horse, he is likely to be on the superstar circuit.

Article written by Noel Davis

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