Bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs has noticed something interesting about audiences at his recent shows.
They're getting younger.
Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder
Opening act: The Salty Dogs
7 p.m. Saturday, Center for Humanities and Arts, University of Arkansas Pulaski Technical College, 3000 West Scenic Drive, North Little Rock
Admission: $35, $50, $65, $80, $120
"I'm telling you, there is something going on with young kids right now. They are really getting into this music," the 64-year-old singer and multi-instrumentalist says from his home in Nashville, Tenn.
He believes it has to do with authenticity and musicianship.
"They're seeing real people play real instruments and singing real songs," he says while preparing to leave for a pair of shows in Canada earlier this month. "And that's the thing about bluegrass. It's so exciting, and there's such fire in the music."
Skaggs and his ultra-tight band, Kentucky Thunder, will bring that fire Saturday to the Center for Humanities and Arts at the University of Arkansas -- Pulaski Technical College in North Little Rock. Local roots music heroes the Salty Dogs will open.
Expect a night of exceptional bluegrass with some of Skaggs' country numbers thrown in.
"We do some of the hits -- 'Highway 40,' 'Uncle Pen,' 'Crying My Heart Out Over You' -- things that work with the bluegrass sound," he says.
Skaggs grew up in tiny Cordell, Ky., and got his first mandolin at age 5.
"Cordell was up a holler," he says. "We fished and hunted. There was a lot of music around the house. My dad played guitar and taught me three chords on the mandolin. I can't imagine what my life would have been if I had been born in New York or L.A. or even Nashville. I grew up exactly where I was supposed to grow up."
When he was 6, he hopped onstage in Martha, Ky., to play with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe -- who became Skaggs' "musical father" -- and earned his first paycheck at age 7 after performing with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs on their syndicated television program.
In 1971, Skaggs and his friend, country singer Keith Whitley, who died in 1989, joined Ralph Stanley's band. A few years later, Skaggs started playing with J.D. Crowe & The New South and appeared on that group's influential, self-titled 1975 debut. He did a stint in Emmylou Harris' Hot Band and led his own outfit, Boone Creek.
During the '80s, along with like-minded artists like Dwight Yoakam, Lyle Lovett, Randy Travis and others, Skaggs was part of country music's return to its more traditional origins. He also scored 12 No. 1 hits, multiple Grammys and several Country Music Association Awards, including one in 1987 for vocal duo of the year for "Love Can't Ever Get Better Than This," a duet with his wife, gospel singer Sharon White.
By the early '90s, he was moving back to his roots and became one of the most visible and ardent ambassadors of bluegrass, releasing a string of award-winning albums on his Skaggs Family Records label and collaborating with everyone from Bruce Hornsby and Ry Cooder to Jack White.
This year, he will be inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Bluegrass Hall of Fame.
"It's quite a thing," he says of the honors. "I'm so thankful I can't stand it."
Talking again about recent concerts, Skaggs says another thing that has changed, along with younger faces in the crowd, is what happens afterward.
In the past, he says, he usually just slipped back to his bus after shows.
"I used to not go out that much to sign autographs. It would make me a little uneasy to be around a lot of people," he says. "But around 2015, I had a reawakening in my heart."
Now autograph lines might last three hours, but Skaggs, a devout Christian, enjoys the connection he makes chatting with fans post-concert.
"We talk about things they want to talk about," he says. "Sometimes they need prayer, and we pray. It's the best part of the day for me."
Weekend on 08/09/2018
Print Headline: Reawakened Ricky Skaggs will be picking at Pulaski Tech