Saturday night Everett Lilly was playing at the Lincoln Theater in Marion VA. He's 89 and was there for the appearance more than the music, though the music was plenty good. For me, it was fun seeing Everett Lilly, mandolin, fiddle and vocal of the Lilly Brothers, one of the early bluegrass bands that played straight-ahead, all-out bluegrass when it was starting up. Everett Lilly played mandolin with Flatt & Scruggs when Art Wooten was playing fiddle with them.
Seeing Everett Lilly was on the order of seeing Ralph Stanley or Earl Scruggs, the last of the living from that time. Everett and his brother B were the Lilly Brothers. B played guitar and sang too. They were from West Virginia, and, as they say, so far back in a holler even the Episcopalians handled snakes. They played some at radio stations in West Virginia and somehow landed a job at the Hillbilly Ranch in Boston where they played seven nights a week for 19 years. They lived in a trailer park and had jams going by day.
Fiddler Tex Logan, going to MIT, met them and played an awful lot of fiddle with them, enough that he became identified as their fiddler. Don Stover, from not far from them in WVA, played one of the great bluegrass banjos with them. Raymond Oakes, singer and guitar picker of Grayson County played guitar with them for a couple of years. They didn't make very many recordings. The one I like the best is the live show at Hillbilly Ranch taped by one of their friends. It turned out so good they put it on record. Lilly Brothers do Barbara Allen the very best to my ears I've ever heard it, so much so that after hearing it there is no other. So many versions of the song try to sing it too much, but Everett Lilly just tells the story. He calls her Bar-bree Allen.
The band with him was his two boys and some others, all of them excellent musicians. Everett played sitting down. Needed a little assistance walking and getting up from the chair. Just an assist. The audience gave him much affirming with applause for about every move he made. Eyes of the frail little man, about the size of Ralph Stanley, would light up and he'd reach up and touch the brim of his hat.
Pathway, a bluegrass band out of Mt Airy played. It's Scott Freeman and his brothers, a bunch of excellent musicians. Scott, primarily a mandolin player, plays fiddle with the band. A few years ago Scott was going around to fiddlers conventions playing fiddle and taking first most of the time. He did this a couple of years in a row and I wondered what he was up to. When Pathway took off I understood he was polishing up his fiddle. He'd played fiddle with Alternate Roots some and several of his solo projects. He seems to be in transition now from mandolin to fiddle, but I doubt it. He's just bringing his fiddle up to where his mandolin is.
The big name draw for the show was Blue Highway, a bluegrass chart band with all members but one from this region. They went off jet-propelled. While I was thinking Pathway and Lilly's bands were suitable for my satisfaction musically, Blue Highway ruled. They left all that went before in the dust.
Their show was better as it went along. It was a bluegrass concert. The dobro player was the one foreigner in the band, and he was from San Francisco. But it didn't matter if he came from the moon, the man can make a dobro sing. They said he got IBMA best dobro ten years. Hearing him, there's no question why. Marbletown is a good song to hear that tells what he can do.
The lead guitar player, who did vocals on Marbletown, turned out to be somebody who could imitate other people's voices. He was the band's comedian. When he said into the mic, 'O Death,' it was so Ralph the whole audience went nuts. Then he started talking like Ralph. It was uncanny. He had the place laughing and applauding and going on. It was funny as it could be, but there was a bit of the sacreligious in it. It felt something like telling an Etheopian joke on Jesus, a little quiver inside that threatens to go off if he crosses the line. Don't be making too much fun of Ralph. In fact, you might have gone too far already. He knew where the line was and didn't make Ralph look bad. He loved Ralph Stanley as much as everybody else.
The Lincoln Theater in Marion is quite a restoration accomplishment. I spent as much time admiring the walls as what was on stage. It's a faux Mayan theme all over the place and half a dozen great huge paintings of scenes from history, Robert E Lee, etc. Marion is on the Lee Highway, made famous by fiddler GB Grayson. Tim White, banjo of the VW Boys, painted a huge mural in Bristol, funny comedian, good song writer, is behind this show Song of the Mountains. It's video recorded for PBS tv by 3 cameras. Will air in about a year. Tim brought the camera crew into the show too. Tim you know of through 5lbs of Possum in my headlights. He's as gifted a comedian and artist as he is a banjo picker. I say thanks to Tim White for all of the above.