Originally created 04/27/01

Bluegrass star very much alive

Bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley may sing about death in the movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? but his career is alive and well, thanks to the popularity of the film and CD sales of the soundtrack.

Mr. Stanley, who will perform at The Lewis Family's annual bluegrass festival, can be heard singing his mournful ballad Oh, Death a cappella in the recent George Clooney movie.

"The CD soundtrack from the movie went platinum (1 million copies sold) and was the No. 1 album (recently) in Billboard magazine's top country charts," Mr. Stanley said in a telephone interview from his Coeburn, Va., home. "And it did that well without any help from any of the big radio stations that play mainstream country music.

"That album has really done a lot for me. The last two months, we've turned people away everwhere we've been."

Mr. Stanley and his Clinch Mountain Boys are to perform at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, May 4, at the 14th annual Lewis Family Homecoming and Bluegrass Festival at Elijah Clark State Park on U.S. Highway 378, 10 miles east of Lincolnton, Ga.

The three-day festival opens Thursday with Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Larry Stephenson Band, Charlie Waller & the Country Gentlemen and, of course, Georgia Music Hall of Famers The Lewis Family, who perform each day.

Grand Ole Opry duo Sonny and Bobby Osborne (the Osborne Brothers) will perform May 4-5.

Headliners Saturday, May 5, include another set of Grand Ole Opry brothers, Jim and Jesse McReynolds, along with another Opry act, Jimmy C. Newman, with his Canjun Country band.

Performances are from noon to 11 p.m. daily, with each group performing twice each day. Tickets are $25 each day, $15 after 6 p.m. Tickets for children 6-13 are $12 a day. There are lots of food concessions on the grounds. Take a folding lawn chair or blanket.

Recordings of the high-lonesome, mountain music of Mr. Stanley and his brother Carter, who died of cancer in 1966, are treasured by fans of bluegrasss and traditional music.

Like other old-style country and bluegrass stars who have found a home on independent labels, Mr. Stanley believes there is a market for his kind of music.

One of his widely acclaimed albums is Clinch Mountain Country, a two-CD set on Rebel Records featuring duets with Vince Gill, Joe Diffie, Patty Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, George Jones and Bob Dylan, who called recording with Mr. Stanley "the highlight of my career."

Coming out at the end of May is a similar project of duets, called Clinch Mountain Sweethearts, featuring Mr. Stanley and a lineup of women stars that includes Melba Montgomery, Dolly Parton, Jeannie Seely, Chely Wright, Pam Tillis, Sara Evans and Joan Baez.

"She's a nice person who really likes old-style music," Mr. Stanley said of Miss Baez. "I met her years ago."

Mr. Stanley is looking forward to performing at the festival.

"They are fine people," he said of The Lewis Family. "I met them years and years ago in Florida in the early '60s. It wasn't even called bluegrass music when I met them.

"They sing good gospel music, and they've done a lot for it. It's the kind of stuff people need to hear. I look forward to their festival. It's a good one and usually has good weather. It also has a lot of good talent."

On stage

What: 14th Annual Lewis Family Homecoming and Bluegrass FestivalPerformers: The Lewis Family (all three days); Thursday: Charlie Waller & the Country Gentlemen, Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver, the Larry Stephenson Band, Big Country Bluegrass and Mountain Heart; Friday, May 4: Ralph Stanley & the Clinch Mountain Boys, the Easter Brothers, the Osborne Brothers, the Village Singers and the James King Band; Saturday, May 5: Jimmy C. Newman, Jim & Jesse & the Virginia Boys, the Osborne Brothers, the Primitive Quartet and Heaven's Echoes

When: Noon to 11 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, May 5

Where: Elijah Clark State Park, U.S. Highway 378, 10 miles east of Lincolnton, Ga.

Admission: $25 each day, $15 after 6 p.m.; children 6-13, $12 each day; children younger than 6, free with parent; (706) 864-7203 for details.

Don Rhodes has written about country music for 30 years. He can be reached at (706) 823-3214 or at ramblin@morris.com.


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