Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys at Hylton Performing Arts Center by Francine Schwartz

On Saturday, May 4, 2013 the Hylton Performing Arts Center of Manassas 3rd Anniversary Gala once again welcomed one of American music’s greatest Bluegrass legends, Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, which he formed with his brother Carter in 1946.

Photo courtesy of Hylton Performing Arts Center.
Photo courtesy of Hylton Performing Arts Center.

Dr. Ralph Stanley, born in 1927 in Big Spraddle, Virginia, boasts of a career in music starting in his early 20s  The group performs all over the country, including featured appearances at Grand Ole Opry, and abroad. Dr. Stanley received the “Living Legend award from the Library of Congress, the National Medal of Arts, presented by he National Endowment for the Arts, and a Grammy Award for the Best Male Country Vocal Performance in 2002. His compositions have been featured in The Coen Brothers’ 2000 film, O Brother, Where Art Thou? Some of country and bluegrass music’s greatest stars got their start in Ralph Stanley’s band, including Ricky Skaggs, Larry Sparks, and Keith Whitley.

All the members of the group are natives of the mountains of Virginia, Tennessee, and North Carolina, growing up in little towns where they still  live. Mostly self taught, each member of the group was introduced by name and town of origin These talented musicians are not only a point of pride for their community, but cherish a regional musical style, Mountain Country, which is sustained in part through avoidance of contact with bluegrass talents from other jurisdictions. There is a strong influence of gospel in the lyrics as well as musical style, and this was emphasized by the offer to provide a free King James Bible with every CD purchased at the concert. 

The first song was “Man of Constant Sorrow,” followed by Dr. Stanley’s grandson, Nathan Stanley, singing his composition, “Papa I Love You.” Nathan Stanley has become a solo artist as well as an entrepreneur with his own record label, Stanley Generation Records. It’s hard to imagine anyone able to play more rapid or complicated rhythms.

The crowd, several hundred strong, was enthusiastic and called out many of their favorites when the opportunity arose. They were especially appreciative of the songs which Dr. Stanley sang himself that were filled with love, warmth, and straight from the heart – “Rambling Man” and “Molly Sweet Molly.” These works were also among the oldest compositions and featured less instrumental pyrotechniques. Other songs featured were “The Road is Tough and Rocky,” “Little Darling,” “White Dove,” “Where Has My Sweet Baby Gone,” “Wildwood Flowers,” “Pretty Polly,” “You’re on Lonely Time,” “Glory Land,” “Long Black Veil,” “Dark Stranger,” “Coozie,” and “Bound to Ride.” My favorites were the closing songs, “Orange Blossom Special,” with special fiddle tricks, and “Angel Band.”

Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys.
Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys.

Members of the Clinch Mountain Boys are Ralph Stanley II (Guitar), Nathan Stanley (Guitar), Dewey Brown (Fiddle), Jimmy Cameron (Upright Bass), James Shelton (Lead Guitar), and Mitchell Van Dyke (Banjo). They are all exceptional musicians and their playing was divine.

Running Time: 90 minutes, with one 20-minute intermission.

Dr. Ralph Stanley and The Clinch Mountain Boys performed for one night only on May 4, 2013 at 8:00 pm at Hylton Performing Arts Center – 10900 University Boulevard, in Manassas, VA. For future events, check their calendar.


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