Sierra Vista To Hear Traditional Tunes First

This appeared in the Arizona Daily Star - July 4, 2003

Marty Stuart saw Ernest Tubbs' colorful suit even before the country music icon stepped off the bus in tiny Philadelphia, Mississippi.

"I almost cried. It was the prettiest thing I'd seen in my life," the country singer said of his childhood flashback. "It was those kinds of visions and those kinds of memories of somebody just taking the time to go to the back roads and not worrying about the big towns that gave me a life out here."

And the idea - three decades later - to travel Tubbs' back roads to the America that he and Hank Williams Sr. sang about and lived when country music was in its infancy.

On Sunday, Stuart, his songstress wife Connie Smith and a few musical friends - Merle Haggard, BR549, Rhonda Vincent and the Old Crow Medicine Show - will kick off the Electric Barnyard Tour in Sierra Vista. Before summer's end, they will hit 25 similar small towns across the country, spreading the gospel of traditional country music and community.

"It just feels right to come back to America at this time and go back to some of our more basic gatherings," the singer/songwriter/producer said from a publicity stop in New York City last week.

The tour marks Stuart's return to performing. He took a respite from recording and touring after his 1999 concept album, The Pilgrim.

"It was time to call intermission after The Pilgrim because I didn't have much to say," the 44-year-old said in a soft Mississippi accent. "It was just time to go home and do something, anything other than get on a tour bus."

So he headed to California, wrote the scores to a few movies, including the Golden Globe-nominated All the Pretty Horses, and wrote some songs for fellow artists, including the Dixie Chicks.

"But I knew last year it was time to get back to work. So I put a band together and we started playing in small towns across America," he said. "The more we played, the more I loved the atmosphere. Lots of people were coming. Our presence brought communities together."

That's what convinced Stuart that small-town America needed guys like him.

"I laid it out to (Haggard), and he said, 'Well, it sounds to me like we're remembering the forgotten people,' " he recalled.

It was Haggard's idea to also include stops at jails and prisons to play for those folks. They won't do that in Sierra Vista, though, since this is the first stop and plenty of nerves are already on edge, Stuart said.

"With that many acts on tour, it truly is like running a circus up and down the road," he explained. "It's not like being in one bus with one band and going to a covered auditorium."

Stuart and Haggard are both touring on new albums - Haggard's Haggard Like Never Before and Stuart's Country Music.

Stuart said the new disc is breathing new energy into his 30-year career.

"It feels good to be at work again," he said.

Country Music includes a duet with Haggard that the pair will sing Sunday and every night on the tour. It's all part of Stuart's effort to give country music a much-needed "integrity boost" and a friendly reminder of where it came from.

"I hope it draws lots of people, for the business of country music, for the business of people involved, but mainly for the spirit of America," he said.

By Cathalena E. Burch

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