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Musical mavens: Bluegrass, Western swing and Son of Fab


I’ve probably seen more musical performances this year than the previous 10 years combined (as described previously, the ’60s band the Zombies, followed by Eric Clapton and the performers named here).Mostly it’s coincidental, but it probably also has to do with the little towheaded Dempsey children growing up and not requiring (or desiring) Mom and Dad to be around all the time.

Of course, they were invited to attend several of these events.  An epiphany:  Teenagers don’t like the same music Mom and Dad do!  However, daughter Jenny is a fan of such bluegrass-friendly folksters as the late, lamented Nickel Creek and their progeny the Punch Brothers, so I naturally thought she might enjoy seeing the real thing: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, in a performance that was part of the very excellent Threadgill Concert Series in Greenville (next: Merle Haggard, June 20).  Showed the dear lass a video of Ricky and the late, great Bill Monroe years ago at the Grand Old Opry, and her reaction was:  “Oh … that’s real country.”
No, it’s real bluegrass; there’s definitely a difference.  But  message received.  

I must say, I’m not a dyed-in-the-wool bluegrass fan, but  I should be; I always marvel at the phenomenal musicianship of bluegrass pickers and those high harmonies are just killer:|


There’s something in that music that penetrates the depth of my Scotch-Irish soul and makes me want to point a loaded shotgun in the general direction of a revenuer.

Opening for Ricky Skaggs: the amazing Quebe (KWAY-bee) Sisters from Fort Worth, who very nearly stole the show:


The Quebes can’t remember the first Clinton administration, so I can only assume they’re channeling the spirit of Bob Wills, with a side dish of the McGuire Sisters.   Mentor Joey McKenzie, by way, wears out his standard guitar.  Perhaps the best rhythm-guitar playing I’ve ever heard.

The night before Ricky Skaggs and the Quebes we saw James McCartney at the Kessler Theater in Dallas (same venue as the Zombies weeks earlier).  He’s the son of Paul McCartney (perhaps you’ve heard of him).  Watching young James caused me to reflect on the marvel of genetics:


The face: somewhere in between dad Paul and mom Linda, but very obviously the son of that iconic couple.  The musical chops:  all Paul; remarkable vocal range and fret dexterity.  Stage presence:  James is perhaps the shyest performer I’ve ever seen, though he did warm up as the night went on, the total opposite of his famously ebullient dad.  Give him credit:  a wealthy young lad indeed, he’s starting at the bottom, playing alone on stage in very small venues at $15 a head, traveling the country with a single roadie in a van.  And he’s sure not doing it for the girls:  Most of the “girls” in the Kessler that night probably shed bitter tears when James' dad married his mom, oh so long ago.

John Mark Dempsey is the host of the public interest program The Blacklands Café from KETR News. Dempsey is also the play-by-play announcer for Commerce Tigers Football on 88.9 FM and on ketr.org.
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