Toad in the Hole

February 10, 2006

Doctor Ralph

We went to see and hear Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys at the Freight & Salvage -- early show, 5PM. We figured we'd see them while they're fresh for the day. (If you're in the Bay Area, get off your ass and buy tickets for tomorrow night's 5PM show, which isn't sold out yet.) We saw them last summer at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass fest; I think I blogged that. Dr. Ralph mentioned then that he'd had a triple bypass earlier that summer. His birthday is the 15th of this month; he'll be, I forget, 79 or 80.

OK, here's one of those elderly moments: You find yourself thinking, "He's only 79?" Watching him walk past on the aisle, I also thought, "My god, he's a little old man."

Dr. Ralph sang "O Death" at HSB last summer, and he sang it tonight too, the one he sang in the movie. I have heard Dr. Ralph sing "O Death" I-forget-how-many times now. I am not tired of it yet. In fact, every time I hear him sing it, the experience gets more shivery. I got physical goosebumps and felt those icy fingers up and down my spine tonight. I think I kind of forgot to breathe. I remember being transfixed last summer. I was transfixed on at least two axes tonight. How many dimensions ya got?

I hope I get to find out.

On the other end: his grandson Nathan Stanley has been playing with the Boys for a couple-three years now. It's been interesting watching him grow up onstage. He's 13; his voice changed since the last time they were at the Freight, about a year ago. Maybe since last summer; I don't remember his doing much onstage then besides playing a fairly craftsmanly mandolin. It's funny because his voice is a couple years older than his face and body. He's seriously pinkcheeked and babyfaced, hasn't yet learned to keep a stage face, had grown only a few inches, but he opened his mouth and did some spoken intros and the voice that came out was way adult. He sang one number, too, and it was an adult tenor... classic lockjawed stiff-upper-lip bluegrass sound. He seemed to be throwing his voice, really startling effect though I'm sure it wasn't deliberate.

More interesting, the band played a mandolin-fronting tune he'd written -- sitting in the backstage room, last time they were in Berkeley. Fetching melody, too.

And in the middle of this generational pass-along is Ralph the Second, the kid's uncle, who's 27 (yeah, I'm calculating too) and has a very pleasant sorghum-baritone voice. He's rather decorative besides. Has several CDs of his own which I'd own if my income were a bit higher, plays rhythm guitar mostly -- the only thing I'd quarrel with is that he's writing stuff that's a bit mainstream-"country," truckdriver sings and the like. I'm thinking long and hard about the phenomenon of "country" being "trucker" and of the dissolving of bluegrass into "country." That last is an adjective that makes me instantly mistrustful, though a good double handful of the musicians I like nest seem to be in that bin in the music stores.

Posted at February 10, 2006 05:36 AM


Sounds like fun. I don't think I've been to a live concert in years and years.

Posted by: Rurality at February 12, 2006 04:07 PM

Live music is one of the reasons we didn't yield to the temptation of those relatively sane real estate prices in Arkansas a year ago last Fall. I'll admit I somethink wistfully of that speculative five acres or so that nobody but us and the wildlife could mess with. Theoretically.

Posted by: Ron at February 14, 2006 04:43 PM