It was an early Christmas present for music fans in Nashville when bluegrass and country music legend Ricky Skaggs and his uniquely talented family wrapped up their annual Christmas tour with a hometown performance at the Schermerhorn Symphony Center Thursday night.
The extended Skaggs clan, consisting of Ricky Skaggs, his wife Sharon and their children Luke and Molly, Buck and Cheryl White, and Cheryl’s daughter Rachel Leftwich, were joined by Kentucky Thunder and The Nashville Strings in presenting a diverse selection of traditional and modern Christmas songs. The wide array of moods, tempos and styles served as a perfect showcase for superb musicianship and vocal ability of the highest caliber.
There was certainly a great deal of instrumental ability on display, but none of the overly flashy, look-at-me playing that sometimes dominates bluegrass. The playing served the songs, while the wide assortment of lead singers involved kept the set fresh and interesting. The family’s crystalline harmonies were the centerpiece of the show.
Nobody should be surprised when they go to see Ricky Skaggs or The Whites and they turn out to be great; that’s fairly well understood in advance at this point. But it was the up-and-coming generation that was a revelation, providing many of the evening’s musical highlights including Molly Skaggs’ gorgeous piano and voice rendering of “What Songs Were Sung,” Molly and Luke Skaggs with Rachel Leftwich on “What Child Is This,” and Luke’s free-form instrumental tribute to the band’s drummer, Tom Roady, who passed away before the first night of this year’s tour and to whom the show was dedicated.
Ricky Skaggs, Sharon and Cheryl White shared their finest moment in an a capella vocal trio arrangement of “The First Noel,” while Buck White brought the house down with a dramatic musical recitation of “The Christmas Guest.”
It was a very polished and professional show, but also very engaging and entertaining. The family’s stage patter is a mix of folksy stories, down-home humor and unabashed religious proselytizing that makes the audience feel as if they’re getting to know the performers, not just watching a show. You wouldn’t have been surprised if Sharon had started handing out homemade cookies, and for this type of show that works extremely well.
This tour is a yearly event, and it’s not hard to see why it’s been so successful. With its mix of music, humor and message, it would hard to imagine a more perfect Christmas-themed musical performance of any kind.