"Bluegrass Bonanza"

Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley Share Stage in Shepherdsville

By Berk Bryant

It was a night many of us had been waiting for with high anticipation for several weeks. It was February 9, 1990. The place, Shepherdsville (Ky.) Country Music Place on Route 44. At 6:45 p.m. I pulled into a parking lot that was already beginning to fill. Two big buses were parked alongside the building. This proved, at a casual glance, that there were two legends of bluegrass music in Shepherdsville, Ky. -- Kentucky-born Bill Monroe, the Father of Bluegrass music, and Dr. Ralph Stanley from the Clinch Mountains of Virginia.

Eight p.m. and a packed house -- SRO -- of enthusiastic bluegrass, Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley fans voiced full approval as Ralph opened the show in the full-speed-ahead style of the Stanley Brothers. Ralph continues the Stanleys' sound and style as developed and proved by Ralph and his late brother Carter Stanley.

Ralph's first set was followed by Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys. What else is there to say about Bill Monroe? Known around the world for the distinctive style of music associated with Kentucky. Known for the music he brought to the country music world -- a music which distinguishes itself as immediately recognizable and, by association with Mr. Monroe's native state, derives its name. Bill Monroe recently celebrated his 50th year at the Grand Ole Opry. At the time he was hired at the Opry he was told, "If you ever leave here, you will have to fire yourself."

After a short intermission, Bill and the Bluegrass Boys once again took the stage and continued the momentum generated in the first part of the evening. After singing many of the songs closely associated with him over the years and answering numerous requests called from the audience, Bill call Ralph out to join them. A renewed fervor of crowd-pleasing music from the masters filled and thrilled the adoring fans.

Finally, although it seemed much too soon, a full night of singing the songs, playing the instrumentals, selling records and tapes, signing autographs, and posing for pictures came to a close. It came to a close with a promise to come back next year, do two shows to accommodate the folks who turned out and could not get in, and some surprises at Bill's Beanblossom, Ind. festival this year.

If all of this sounds like a great time and a great show, it was. However, it didn't quite end with that, at least not for everyone. Some of us who had gotten together from Radcliff (Ky.) decided we would stop at the Truck World Truck Stop at Shepherdsville for coffee before heading home. Brian Skurski looked up and said something like "Here comes one of the buses." Sure enough, shortly after, Mr. Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys came in. Bill waved and then visited the few folks -- well, it was after midnight -- at the tables and booths. A good and friendly visit.

As we were starting to leave, Brian commented to Bill about the beautiful mandolin that was presented to him (Bill) at the 50th Anniversary show at the Opry a few weeks before. "Would you like to see it? I've got it out in the bus. You're not in any hurry are you?" No one was in a hurry. Bill had someone bring the mandolin in and very carefully pointed out the detail on the very fine instrument. As though it was impossible to resist, he began to play. The chosen song was "Come Hither to Go Yonder," a cut from his latest instrumental album. Mr. Monroe then looked at Brian's nine-year-old daughter Aime and asked, "Will you sing a song with me?" The song -- "Blue Moon of Kentucky."

An already-terrific night could not have finished better, especially for some very staunch fans and a little girl. As the mandolin was being put away, Bill had this to say: "Now that's a first. That's the first time I've played in a store."

Firsts are nothing new to the Father of Bluegrass music. Last year he was awarded the first Grammy given in bluegrass music.

(Berk Bryant is the host of "Sunday Bluegrass" on WFPL 89.3 each Sunday at 8:00 p.m.