Rock Star Wagoner, Marty Stuart Jam At The Ryman

This appeared in The Tennessean - June 8, 2007

While taking center stage at the Ryman Auditorium is nothing new for Country Music Hall of Famer Porter Wagoner, Wednesday night may have been the first time that he walked across the stage as a rock star.

On Tuesday, the rail-thin 79-year-old released a new album, Wagonmaster, on the Los Angeles-based punk rock label Anti-Records. He has performed several West Coast shows with label mate Neko Case that have created a buzz and helped build him a new, young fan base. On July 24, he will open for The White Stripes in New York's Madison Square Garden.

"It feels real different," he said of the crowds' reception now. "It's like a new lease on life, almost. It's like the young people just really like me for some reason. Every place I've been has been a very good change. It's a nice feeling."

Marty Stuart, who produced Porter's album, compares Porter's success to that of Johnny Cash's Rick Rubin-produced later recordings, which earned him a new generation of fans. "It's nice to see authenticity being recognized. It is still disturbing to me that you have to go to Los Angeles to get a country legend a record deal."

Porter got a standing ovation for just taking the stage at Marty's sixth annual Late Night Jam, which raised money for The Recording Academy's MusiCares that helps music industry folks in need. When he began "Green, Green Grass of Home," show announcer Eddie Stubbs told me, "I've got to watch this; this is history," and that was before Porter sang "A Satisfied Mind."

The night wasn't all reverence. There was chuckling backstage about Porter's recent Grand Ole Opry tribute. There, while Dolly Parton was singing to Porter, he pulled out a handkerchief and wiped away… something in his nose.

Wednesday's Ryman show began at 10 p.m. (an hour earlier this year) and lasted until 2 a.m. The lineup included John Rich, Charley Pride, Eric Church, Ashley Monroe, Pam Tillis andNeko Case. Marty's wife, Connie Smith, took it all in from a chair on the side of the stage.

Charley says, "When I first came here, there weren't any elevators. We were just talking about that. It's the difference. I was not as scared and nervous the first time I was on there."

But not everything new is improved. "I miss a lot of things that I liked better when it was called Fan Fair and was out at the fairgrounds," he said. "You had your own stall and could meet all your fans. I miss that."

Marty said he wants to hold Nashville's feet to the fire with its moniker of Music City, because all music should be welcomed at country music's mother church. "I hope some day it has as much breadth, depth and integrity as the Jazz Fest in New Orleans," he said of CMA Music Festival.

By Beverly Keel

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