BROWNFIELD, Maine — Fresh off a star turn on Ken Burns' standout "Country Music" documentary series on PBS, Country Music Hall of Famer Ricky Skaggs is bringing his six-piece Kentucky Thunder Band to the Stone Mountain Arts Center in Brownfield, Maine, for a sold-out Nov. 14 show.
A native of Kentucky and recognized master of the bluegrass mandolin (along with guitar, fiddle and banjo) since he was a child, Skaggs grew up playing on stage with such bluegrass luminaries as Bill Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs and Ralph Stanley.
In the 1980s, he turned his attention to country music, joining Emmylou Harris' band. In 1982, he became the youngest person ever inducted into the Grand Ole Opry.
Skaggs has earned 15 Grammy Awards, charted a dozen No. 1 Billboard singles, made 12 top country albums and last year was inducted into both the International Bluegrass Music Association and Country Music Halls of Fame.
Most recently, he performed on the 2018 CMA Awards alongside Keith Urban, Brad Paisley and Brothers Osborne.
Skaggs is currently on a national tour that takes him from South (Alabama, Florida, Tennessee) to North (Connecticut, Maine, Vermont) and just about every state in between.
And although the Brownfield show is sold out, $39 bleacher tickets are still available for his Friday, Nov. 15, show in Lyndonville, Vt., at Northern Vermont University.
The Sun caught up with him for a 10-minute phone interview on Wednesday from Nashville, where he frequently plays at the Ryman Auditorium.
Conway Daily Sun: "Has the 'Country Music' PBS series had a 'Ken Burns effect' on your career?"
Ricky Skaggs: Well, I do believe just the amount of TV time they devoted to me on that show, I think it's caused a lot of people to recognize me and to know more about my style of music. And I think it might have sold a few more tickets to my shows.
CDS: Speaking of shows, have you ever played at Stone Mountain Arts Center before?
RS: Oh yes. It's one of my favorite places to play. It's always jampacked with crazy screaming music fans.
CDS: So, where is home for you (though you tour so much, maybe you don't even remember where that is)?
RS: I have to remember — it's where I keep all my guitars and mandolins. I live in the Nashville area.
CDS: Would you consider yourself to be a bluegrass artist or a country artist?
RS: Yes, I'm guilty of all of that. You know, I started out in bluegrass, it was my first language. And it wasn't until I moved to Nashville in 1980 that I started my country music career. But I never disassociated from my roots — I kept that lifeline in the music. I never unplugged that passion for bluegrass and love for tradition.
There was a time in the '80s, that "Urban Cowboy" phase, where country sort of took a modern turn. And I felt I needed to bring some semblance of tradition, to blend it, to mix it with bluegrass.
CDS: Do you think bluegrass is finally having its moment?
RS: Absolutely, there has been a resurgence of bluegrass — more than ever in my lifetime. And there's a lot of young ladies coming up in bluegrass, which is really nice to see. The great Alison Krauss has played a large role in that.
CDS: The mandolin has such a beautiful sound. Do you ever want to bust out of your genre, and do a classical album, for example?
RS: There are some beautiful arrangements for the mandolin, and we have actually played with many symphony orchestras: The Boston Pops, the Atlanta Symphony, Dayton, the Utah Symphony in Park City ... You know it's great to see these six-figure-earning classical players that have studied all their lives, for them to see my fiddle player taking a solo. It completely blows their minds.
CDS: Anything else you would to share with our readers? Are you working on a new album?
RS: We are, and it's going to be a live album. Going back to the band, I have to say this is one of the best configurations of Kentucky Thunder since I started it in 1996 (the year Mr. Monroe passed away). We're recording most of it on the Pro Tools digital audio system, and plan to take the best of our performances and put it on the album.