Ricky Skaggs sees his music as a gift to be humbly received and cheerfully given.
After more than 40 years in the music business, Skaggs harbors no feelings of entitlement, no sense of excessive self-worth. He considers the talent which has allowed him to spend a lifetime on stage making music a Blessing, with a capital B.
He believes that each time he strums his omnipresent mandolin or steps up to a microphone to belt a bluegrass ballad, he is fulfilling a sacred trust.
"Us musicians, as wacky as we are, play a role," he said in a recent telephone interview promoting his appearance at the inaugural Papa Joe's Banjo-B-Que on Saturday at the Hippodrome in North Augusta. "We have something to offer the general public, something someone working in Walmart or on Wall Street, can't. And that's a privilege. I don't take it lightly."
The event also features a Kansas City Barbecue Society cookoff (click here for a related story), pig races, crafts, rides and a tractor show.
Skaggs began playing the mandolin at five, was called onstage by bluegrass legend Bill Monroe at six and was playing professionally by the time he was seven.
He points to the moment Monroe strapped his own Gibson on the then-small Skaggs as the moment his musical life truly began.
"What an awesome thing that is, even now, to look back on," he said. "That really was the beginning - an anointment , the first pouring on of oil."
In the years since, he has been a solo artist and band leader, a collaborator and sideman. He's been a Nashville player and is now a record executive in his own right. He said the secret is the endless adaptability of the bluegrass sound he always returns to.
"I mean, you can be a stick in the mud and play these songs exactly as they were recorded," he said. "Or, you can say yes when Jack White or Bruce Hornsby calls. I personally believe the more times you do that, the more people will discover how wonderful this music is."
Skaggs credits the more than two years he spent playing with Emmylou Harris for teaching him how to work and play well with others. He said her distinctive approach to country music, which embraced both traditional tones and textures and elements from the rock world, taught him that genre is less important than quality.
"The knowledge I got working with Emmylou for those few years gave me the faith I needed to go out on my own," he said.
Today, Skaggs runs Skaggs Family Records and is in a position to mentor. He said that's always been part of the bluegrass tradition, that element of passing on information, style and songs.
Just as Bill Monroe brought a young boy onstage at a Kentucky high school to sing and strum, he said, he continues to seek out artists that he might encourage and bestow the gift of bluegrass on.
"That's something we've lost a lot of as the record industry has become more commercial," he said. "But I believe, my faith tells me, that God is the source of what we do and that musicians should always be looking for that empty vessel. It's something I can do that I feel pleases God."