The Front Act and the Legend

September 15, 2010 Memorial Hall, UNC, Chapel Hill, NC: Earl Scruggs with “special guests” The Red Clay Ramblers

That's Rick Good, me, with Rob Ladd on the drums

We’d all really been looking forward to this show — the renovated hall is a great concert venue, we were on the bill with a bona fide legend, and it’s our hometown crowd, a lot of the elements of the elusive perfect gig. Even the weather was favorable.

The Scruggs bus was parked in tight to the loading dock as we headed in for sound check. Since we were first on the bill, our sound check was after the Scruggs’; they were picking away, Earl’s son Gary standing in for Earl to check his setup. Nothing unusual, I wouldn’t have expected to see the man himself. Our own Rick Good hoped to get Earl to hold Rick’s “guitar/banjo” for a photo op (that’s the instrument Rick is holding in the picture), we were definitely on the lookout.

Our sound check followed, practically uneventful, and we headed for the thin meat (maybe we should specify in our rider that we would like a bit thicker cut??). We hang, we wait.

Showtime was 7:30; at 7:25 there is a knock at the dressing room door, and the suddenly serious producer has bad news. Earl is not well and won’t be performing. Woah- an instant let-down and an immediate tizzy. We are asked to lengthen our set a little as it will comprise the whole of the evening’s entertainment.

It wasn’t too cheery backstage, with the Scruggs crew packing. It’s a terrible feeling, a show that won’t go on, a disappointed audience. Musicians, actors, dancers, it’s the same for all of us, the worst of the worst. And we have to worry a bit about Mr. Scruggs at 87.

But for us the show must go on. We did fine and the audience was very sympathetic (is that good?) and responsive. Unfortunately I made the mistake of high expectations, and the end result left me wanting.

Earl Scruggs, in the Bill Monroe band in 1945, invented bluegrass banjo. In 1959 he was a headliner at the very first Newport Folk Festival. He’s been playing gigs for probably 70 years, I wanted to see him, to hear him, maybe even talk to him. There is something about just being in the presence of true legend, you don’t want to miss an opportunity.

But that one is gone. Let’s hope Earl comes back strong, maybe there will be another time. It’s all about chance, and odds, and as bad as the odds are, there is always a chance.

Here’s a review of the show in the campus news, some real quotes for our press page….

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