Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
t the very beginning of the concert, Dobro master Jerry Douglas told the sold-out crowd "This is going to be fun. I promise." About 2 3/4 hours later, Douglas proved to be prophetic as well with an entertaining evening of music thanks in (large) part to help from several very well-known friends.
Douglas is considered the best Dobro player out there, and he demonstrated those skills time and again. He tended to stay within the song, sometimes going softer and other times picking up the pace, enlivening the song with steely runs. That's a good thing considering many of the songs were instrumentals, so maintaining an even keel would not have been the best way to keep the fans attentive. Bottom line is Douglas can flat out play without showy moves and sounds. It's all part of his musical landscape.
Douglas also had a solid backing band helping out, particular fiddler player Luke Bulla. He added a lot of spice to many of the songs and also took on lead vocals, displaying good vocal chops. Douglas certainly wasn't a hog when it came to playing the music.
For a performer who isn't given to lead singing (Douglas did contribute backing vocals quite well), he isn't shy about engaging the audience, explaining songs and cracking jokes throughout, giving a warmth to the festivities.
Douglas, performing as part of the Country Music Hall of Fame's artist in residence program, had a few key friends on hand to make for an exciting concert. Douglas spends most of his time when he's not on his own as the Dobro player for Alison Krauss + Union Station, so Krauss showed up to sing four songs. Douglas talked on meeting her at age 14. "We thought, 'oh great,'" said Douglas, indicating it would be a waste of time. "So, this time, it was really really different."
Krauss was her typical fine self with her angelic voice sounding as beautiful as ever on such songs as Til the Rivers All Run Dry with Douglas' Dobro prominent underneath the vocals, and Shadows, a Tony Rice song with the ace acoustic guitarist showing up to help out.
Douglas talked about growing up in West Virginia and thanks to his father, learning about Flatt & Scruggs whose music would be on his mind while he was supposed to be learning his ABCs. Scruggs, now in his mid 80s, came out to showcase his tremendous banjo skills, on songs including Home Sweet Home, which is on Douglas' new CD "Glide," and Farewell Blues. His playing seemed effortless.
Rice took on a more prominent role in the second set with he and Douglas alone on stage turning in a sweet reading of "Summertime. Douglas did not rush the song along, though, here like elsewhere, some of the songs could have been a bit shorter.
The evening had a bit of everything from Douglas and band to Douglas and guests with Douglas always a key ingredient. As Douglas said at the end, "It's nice to throw all these people in the mix and see what happens." The recipe came out just fine, and Douglas was true to his words uttered at the outset.