Mountain Stage Show Returns To The Paramount Center

This appeared on - March 12, 2012

Sunday afternoon in the Birthplace of Country Music.

Classic country ambassador Marty Stuart slept on his bus behind the Paramount.

Blue Highway’s Tim Stafford roamed the grand theater.

And Del McCoury bobbled his head.

So it went in the hours that led up to Sunday’s Mountain Stage show at the Paramount Center for the Arts. Presented by the Birthplace of Country Music Alliance, the long-running National Public Radio show delivered Stuart to tear the woodpile down. And he did. Stafford’s Blue Highway brought the bluegrass. Gospel’s McCrary Sisters sure amounted to much more than a fair four. Add folk newcomer John Fullbright and Iowa’s Pines.

“Mountain Stage presents all kinds of music,” said Larry Groce, Mountain Stage co-founder and host, about an hour before show time. “Whenever we come to Bristol, we concentrate on the roots and branches of country music since we’re coming to the birthplace of country music.”

Hours earlier from within a tiny handmade box pulled from a drawer in a road case came an object of renown.

Make welcome, Del McCoury, bobblehead. Perched atop a soundboard just off stage, he wore a good neighbor grin that would have said howdy had it been able. He’s on all of the Mountain Stage shows. Most performers have taken to rubbing his head before going on stage.

“It’s like rubbing Buddha’s belly,” said Rich Collins, Mountain Stage’s monitor engineer.

Moments later, the McCrary Sisters walked on stage and to their respective microphones. Two hours before they uplifted, transported and slung a heavyweight’s haymaker to the sold-out crowd, they rehearsed with no less passion.

They began as with during the show by summoning Bob Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Sisters Ann, Deborah, Regina and Alfreda McCray came on calmly. Of note, Regina toured with Dylan as a backup singer. They navigated the tune as if to check it out real good and kick its tires like a fine singer should.

And then they wailed.

“Regina had to get permission from Bob, and he said yes,” Alfreda McCrary said backstage moments before show time.

The song tornadoes the McCrary Sisters’ new album, “Our Journey,” into goosebump gospel overdrive.

“We’ve taken that song and given it life,” Alfreda said. “Bob really loved it.”

Well, Dylan’s obviously neither deaf nor dumb. Same goes for the three folks who watched the McCrary Sisters rehearse and the nearly 800 who clapped in time to their tunes during the show.

Take their take on “Dig a Little Deeper.” Drums slept. Guitars lazed. The piano’s keys quieted. They only sang. Oh, did they. Their voices dipped into the River Jordan, swallowed a swig and delivered the word as if they may be their last.

Their eyes lit up like diamonds on a debutante’s hand.

Small wonder given their gigantic musical genes.

“Our father [the late Rev. Samuel McCrary] was one of the founders of the Fairfield Four,” said Ann McCrary.

Alfreda McCrary rocked her head to and fro and graced those who saw with a quilt-warm smile.

“It’s from birth, music,” she said. “Our father was a preacher. Ever since I was 3 years old, we would sing in the choir.”

While they held Bristol in their hands, Marty Stuart’s lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan made way along the length of the stage just behind the Paramount’s large black curtain. He peeked around the side, guitar in hand and tuned to go. He listened to the McCrary Sisters for a moment, spread wide a smile and then was gone.

You want power? The McCrary Sisters could have compelled the devil to the cross.

Meanwhile Stuart’s famed sunburst Fender Telecaster guitar sat propped up in its case, out of sight but about a pick’s toss from the stage.

“I love Mountain Stage,” Alfreda McCrary said. “Everything about it. From the time we entered the door we just felt so warm.”

And as the sun went down on the Birthplace of Country Music last night, McCrary enjoyed company aplenty in that regard. Folks came to the mountains, loved Mountain Stage, and Mountain Stage and its stars loved ‘em right back.

“It can be as good as this,” Groce said moments before Mountain Stage revved to life. “But it can’t get better than this.”

By Tom Netherland

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