Everly Brothers Return To Their Old Kentucky Home (CENTRAL City)

By Jean Metcalfe

The Central City, Ky. hillside was alive with the sound of music as some 10,000 folks sat on blankets, bleachers and lawn chairs at the elementary school to hear native sons Don and Phil Everly on their return to their hometown for the Second Annual Everly Brothers Homecoming Music Festival.

But the fans had plenty of entertainment awaiting them before the two members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came on to perform their famous hits.

When I arrived on this warm August 12 evening, the early acts were already in progress. On a large stage with a gigantic backdrop proclaiming "Central City, Ky. Music Festival," the entertainment included local talent and two contest winners from out of town.

Dr. Larry Kilgore, national thumb-picking champion in 1988, and winner of Central City's "Home of the Legends Thumb-picking contest earlier in the day, ably demonstrated why he had been selected for the top honors. Selections included "Mose" (about "the man who was instrumental in getting the thumb-picking contest started"), "Guitar Rag" and "Bugle Call Rag." There was also a clever number about "Second Cousin Claude," who was "possum-eyed like his mama's folks".

Louisvillian Debra Tuggle won the "Talent Search '89" contest on Friday with a couple of her originals, and she included them in her 20-minute set on Saturday night. (The opportunity to perform on the show was one of the contest's first-place prizes.)

Ms. Tuggle was one of 60 contestants in the first of what is planned as an annual talent search connected with the Homecoming Music Festival. She began her set with an a cappella version of "Appalachia" and continued with "Build Back the Mountain," "Old Glory" and "Ever' Time My Heart Goes Home" from her current album Ever' Time My Heart Goes Home. She finished with "The Voice of the Eagle," a very thought-provoking environmental number, then graciously thanked the people of Central City for having her there, adding "Remember, you have the voice of the eagle." Darlene Davenport provided vocal harmony for the latter two numbers.

Roberto Bianco from Milan, Italy, treated the ever-increasing crowd on the hillside to a set of humorous tunes, including "My Soon to Be Former Wife," before Ft. Worth native Katy Moffett, who is the opening act for the Everly Brothers road show, was introduced.

Ms. Moffett, an excellent guitar picker and singer, began with the Patsy Cline hit "Walking After Midnight" before singing "Walking On the Moon," the title cut from her new album, which she co-wrote with Tom Russell. Ms. Moffett then served up a hilarious song written by her brother Hugh Moffett, and a cut on his most recent album, which she dedicated to "all TV preachers who may have survived the last couple of years." "Praise the Lord and send me the money / I'm so happy, you can be happy, too / If you praise the Lord and send me the money / That's what Jesus wants you to do." The whipped-up TV viewer sent in a check and then "Woke up late for work the next morning / I couldn't believe what I had done / Wrote a hot check to Jesus for 10,000 / And my bank account only held 31." Ms. Moffett allowed as how she didn't know if it was a true story. "I'm afraid to ask my brother," she said. "I'm afraid it might be."

What can you say about New Grass Revival that hasn't already been said? My thesaurus contains several words that are appropriate, but I'll just choose "superb" to describe their Central City performance. They entertained us with "Baton Rouge," the top-40 single from their most recent album, Friday Night In America, and for good measure did the title cut as well. They also included "You Plant Your Field," from the same album, and indicated that it would soon be released as a single. Their entire performance was exciting, but it's hard to top their On the Boulevard biggie, "You Don't Knock." Oh yeah!

Following New Grass's performance, I was fortunate to speak briefly with their great mandolin and fiddle player Sam Bush. It was a real treat. Bush is a very affable gentleman offstage in addition to being an outstanding performer onstage. And busy! I had met him following an appearance with the Louisville Mandolin Orchestra at The Lonesome Pine Specials last season. And he performed on at least two of Lonesome Pine's concerts early in August.

Next up was John Prine. My cup runneth (ranneth?) over. Prine didn't do anything new, and that suited me just fine. Well, actually, he did bring his lovely wife onstage for the latter part of his set which was new for me, although he did say that "she sings on all my records." The songs were all tried and true old friends. There was "So Help Me I Know," "Fish and Whistle," "David and Lydia," and "Grandpa Was A Carpenter," about his Grandpa Prine.

Of course, "Illegal Smile" showed up and so did "Dear Abby" (to whom he writes, "You won't believe this, my stomach makes noises whenever I kiss," and signs himself "Noise Maker"). Prine concluded his 45-minute set with three songs that contain some of the most powerful lyrics I have ever heard: "Sam Stone," of whom it is said, "There's a hole in daddy's arm where all the money goes"; "Unwed Fathers," on which Ms. Prine did a lovely solo part; and "Hello In There," the poignant story of a lonely, elderly couple.

Prine's audience insisted on an encore, and Prine responded with "Please Don't Bury Me" and "Paradise." He was accompanied on the two numbers by his wife and a guitarist who also provided vocal harmony. In introducing "Paradise," he told his exuberant audience, "It used to be my song -- now it's your song."

I was enjoying the performances from near the backstage area when the brothers Everly came onstage. I didn't have to see them -- there was a definitive swell of excitement that filled the area, and almost enough flashbulbs to eliminate the necessity for stage lighting. Phil and Don did not disappoint. As a matter of fact they were even better than I had expected, and I was anticipating an enthusiastic performance since it was their turf and they would want to do the hometown folks proud.

The energy and perspiration (make that sweat) flowed. Although the brothers have both hit the "big five-o" in age, they performed with the energy and enthusiasm of teenagers, but they were all dressed up in dark suits with flowers in their lapels. (Quite a change from the sweat pants and T-shirt that Phil was wearing earlier in the evening when he was patiently meeting fans and signing autographs for them when he could have been resting up for the evening's performance. He made a lot of folks very happy, T-shirt and all, and provided this writer an unexpected, up-close photo opportunity.)

I often wonder if it doesn't get tiresome for entertainers to do their hit songs over and over, even though that is what the fans want them to do. (The late Ricky Nelson addressed this subject in his "Garden Party.") If the Everly Brothers minded, they didn't let it show. They plunged right in with their country-rock hits of the 1950s and late 1960s -- songs that it is said prompted Bob Dylan to say, "We owe those guys everything. They started it all." "Those guys" are also credited with influencing the styles of many 60s rock stars, not the least of whom were the Beatles.

They included in their performance their 1957 number-one hit "Bye Bye Love," and invited the audience to sing along -- not that they needed an invitation. They followed up with a '58 hit "All I Have to Do Is Dream," after which they did a little talking with the audience, and made a point to credit their daddy Ike with teaching them to sing.

"We brought along some friends," the native sons related, "We've got Duane Eddy right here. Give him a Muhlenburg County welcome." Eddy (a better than fair guitar picker) and his band, including a great saxophone player, showed off their stuff with a dazzling variety of numbers. There was the familiar "Detour" ("There's a muddy road ahead.") and there was "Three-Thirty Blues." "Forty Miles Of Bad Road" preceded a tune that Eddy said was going to be "a very tender love song." The song was titled "Some Kind Of Earthquake," and it wasn't any kind of love song. It was a rousing, high-energy instrumental that they really cooked on.

Then Phil and Don returned, hugged Eddy and welcomed onstage a couple of young people to whom they presented scholarships.

A treat for this would-be songwriter was when the Everlys introduced Sonny Curtis, "who wrote some good songs for us -- but he didn't give us this one" (the one he was going to sing with them -- "I Fought the Law and the Law Won.") Curtis allowed as how he wished that he had grown up in Central City so that he could have hung out with Phil and Don.

As the evening of terrific entertainment was winding down (although the energy wasn't), the brothers began a series of "a few more songs that we recorded a few years ago." Nostalgia hung heavy in the night air as the famous duo beautifully performed their 1959 top-10 hit "Till I Kissed You," "Cathy's Clown," (which first demonstrated the Everlys' song-writing talent and which is a current hit for Reba McEntire), "Wake Up Little Susie" and "Let It Be Me."

For the finale of the Second Annual Everly Brothers Homecoming Music Festival, the brothers called all the evening's entertainers who were still around to come out and join in a reprise of the event's "theme song," Prine's "Paradise." There were a lot of smiles and hugs onstage, and it was very heartwarming.

It had been a spellbinding, magical evening in Central City, Ky., and as we departed through the expanse of refreshment-stand litter and past the large Everly Brothers tour bus "Mule Nose." I thought of what a lovely evening it had been; the two-hour drive back to Louisville seemed insignificant.