Marty Stuart

Marty Stuart
April 23 Sierra Nevada Big Room

There must be a million ways performers can fuck up a live performance, from tripping over mic cords to tripping over one another. They can play in the wrong key or pick the wrong note thousands of times a night. But none of that happened when Marty Stuart and his band took the stage at the Sierra Nevada Big Room last week, bringing Saturday night and Sunday morning to a Tuesday night in Chico, with a full complement of honkytonk hell raisin’ and gospel hymn singin’ that could have been happening on a rainy night in Georgia, or a sunny Sunday comin’ down in the delta, either in Mississippi, or the one nearer at hand.

There were ghosts in the Big Room, too. Marty Stuart said he felt the spirit of Marty Robbins, prompting him to do a Robbins number (“Don’t We All Have the Right to Be Wrong Now and Then”) that the band conjured on the spot. Across the room, I saw a woman who looked like my own dear departed mother, dancing up a storm with moves just like Mom’s.

You had your pickin’ and you had your grinnin’, often simultaneously, and the pickin’ was Grade A. Stuart said that what they offered was a High Octane Hillbilly Show, and that was no bullshit, from the kick-off song (“Stop the World and Let Me Off”) through the generous encore in response to a roaring standing ovation. In between, there were stellar renditions of Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm,” and Lefty Frizzell’s classic hit, “Long Black Veil,” with a gorgeous solo guitar intro that explained, if explanation were needed, why Marty Stuart is as good as it gets when it comes to country music. That was why Johnny Cash had him in his band, and why Flatt and Scruggs hired him before that.

The drummer, Harry Stinson, did a rendition of an old Johnny Horton song, “Whispering Pines,” that I haven’t heard since Morris Taylor used to sing it on local television. Lead guitarist Kenny Vaughan played fast and tight, and Paul Martin, on bass, made it look easy and made it look fun. And all these good ol’ boys could harmonize like angels.

The highlight was a display of instrumental virtuosity by Stuart himself on mandolin, a gorgeous bit of playing that brought the audience to its feet.

Someone once said that country music was just “three chords and the truth.” Maybe so, but Marty Stuart and the band made it seem like a hoot and a holler more than that.