Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver Silver Anniversary Show – War Memorial Auditorium (Nashville, TN)
A School Of Bluegrass is the title of a two-disc collection of rehearsal and live show recordings released by bluegrass master Doyle Lawson to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his band, and though it wasn’t formally intended to do so, the marathon Silver Anniversary Show proved the phrase to be a plain and simple fact. The group’s twelve previous editions, carefully listed in the concert program, produced an abundance of the genre’s biggest stars of today and set the pace for much of contemporary bluegrass. The current lineup also has plenty to show for itself, as evidenced by a slew of 21st-century International Bluegrass Music Association awards.
The War Memorial Auditorium proved a fine venue, having served as the home of the Grand Ole Opry in the years just before Lawson’s birth in 1944. And though there were more than a few bluegrass celebrities and youngsters in attendance, the bulk of the audience was reminiscent of the Opry’s — largely middle-aged and older, largely southern, largely familiar with the musicians and their repertoire. Seated cheek by jowl and regularly visited by camera crews taping the show for a forthcoming concert video, they were tirelessly engaged throughout the evening’s four-plus hours, welcoming favorite performers and songs with hollers and plenty of applause.
Despite the length of the show and the approach of what he dryly called “the 30th anniversary of my 30th birthday,” Lawson, too, showed little fatigue. From the moment he welcomed the members of Quicksilver’s first lineup to the stage and launched into the speedy mandolin kickoff to “Yellow River” from the group’s first album, he was in charge, introducing songs and musicians with a joviality that grew as the night wore on while presiding over the music with an undiminished intensity.
Remarkably, only three of the more than two dozen Quicksilver alumni were unable to make an appearance. Lawson has had a reputation as a stern taskmaster, and several sets of members have left en masse on different occasions. Yet even those who are no longer in the business (not only those who aren’t playing full-time, but several who aren’t playing at all) answered the call, rising to the challenge of recapturing a musical history full of passion, innovation, and vocal and instrumental brilliance.
Highlights were abundant. “On The Sea Of Life”, the opening track to the original lineup’s groundbreaking gospel album Rock My Soul, was greeted by the audience with a justified roar, as Terry Baucom’s banjo drove the song forward and Lou Reid’s soaring tenor anchored the vocal quartet from the top down. Russell Moore’s seemingly effortless high leads and harmonies reminded why he’s one of the most admired singers in the genre, while Jim Mills’ flawless quotations from a string of banjo greats on Mel Tillis’ “Tennessee Banjo Man” offered reason enough for his IBMA Banjo Player of the Year awards. Current member Barry Scott moved to an electric keyboard for a soulful rendition of Vince Gill’s “Go Rest High On That Mountain”, while his colleague Jamie Dailey showed off a gift for comedy on the southern gospel-flavored “Do Right And Come Smiling Thru” that nearly matches his talent as a lead and tenor singer.
When Lawson created Quicksilver in 1979, he wanted a group that could handle complex, contemporary material with as much ease as it could tackle amped-up versions of bluegrass classics and gospel songs drawing from both bluegrass and southern gospel quartet traditions. He found it with the original Quicksilver, and while the progressive strain to the band’s sound has diminished over the years, especially in the past decade, the fundamentals of quality and flexibility haven’t.
Indeed, the current lineup, with Dailey and Scott trading off impossibly high leads and even higher tenors, and young New Mexico fiddler J. W. Stockman impassively sawing up a storm, is arguably as good as, if not better than, the original quartet. And, in a providential but almost impossibly fitting move, original banjoist Baucom has returned to the group after eighteen years, closing the circle with what Lawson laughingly called “a life sentence without parole.”
Quicksilver alumni have gone on to form or join a healthy portion of today’s top acts — including IIIrd Tyme Out, Blueridge, Lou Reid & Carolina, Mountain Heart, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Blue Highway, Continental Divide, and Rhonda Vincent & the Rage — but if one thing was clear at the end of the show, it’s that Doyle Lawson’s better days are not behind him yet.