Last Friday night, before Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives played at the Birchmere in Alexandria, VA, Americana Highways was talking to a guy in the hallway about the show. He stated emphatically: “It’s the best performance in either country music or rock ‘n roll that I’ve ever seen! ‘And I work here!’”
With expectations appropriately raised, the show was about to begin. In the darkness, the announcer said “Please put your hands together for Marty Stuart & the Fabulous Superlatives!” The crowd cheered wildly as the band crossed the stage: Kenny Vaughan, drummer Harry Stinson, and Chris Scruggs all wearing matching powder blue suits with pastel sequined embroidered bodices, and matching white cowboy boots.
Marty Stuart was dressed all in black, and the band played “Sundown in Nashville;” Stuart said “Say howdy! We came to play some hillbilly music tonight,” and they turned back to play “Country Boy Rock ‘n Roll” and then“Whole Lotta Highway,” with Kenny Vaughn on his glittery blue sparkle RS Guitarworks custom Tele. Stuart is clearly a master at whipping up enthusiasm as he introduced the band: “What do you think about the Superlatives so far?” he asks. “There’s “Handsome Harry Stinson” on the drums; “Professor Chris Scruggs on the bass;” and “Cousin Kenny over here on guitar.”
“Mojave” from the new album is an extended instrumental and the audience is clapping in rhythm. Marty Stuart is playing the living artifact, the guitar Clarence White used to make the first B-bender; Stuart still plays it on the road. (read about that by clicking here) and it’s hard to take your eyes off the instrument. “Our new album Way Out West is a palm tree-based, twang fest, psychedelic journey. We’re gonna play a ballad off of that album right now: “Old Mexico.”
Next up was Jimmie Rodgers’ “Hobo’s Meditation,” and then two absolutely fantastic Kenny Vaughan songs: he was on the wild blue sparkle 12-string guitar for “Country Music Got a Hold on Me,” and then “Hot Like That.” This entire band exhibits fantastic instrumentalism and harmonious perfection. It’s impossible to look away from any of the instruments at this point, and every last person in the room is completely mesmerized.
At this point Stuart said he’d take a request; someone from the seats shouted out “El Paso,” and the band did an amazing rendition. On “Old Souls Like You and Me,” Chris Scruggs did some stellar work; then Stuart joked that he had written the Bill Monroe cover “Blue Moon of Kentucky,” and proceeded to tear it up it on mandolin.
“Handsome Harry” sang Woodie Guthrie’s “The Ballad of Pretty Boy Floyd,” with the snare drum on his neckstrap and held the note for Oklahooooooooma so long the audience dissolved.
Stuart played “Orange Blossom Special” solo acoustic, and told a story about the time he met Ervin Rouse. Then the band returned and sang a heartbreakingly perfect “Just a Little Talk With Jesus“ and then “Angels Rock Me to Sleep” all gathered around one mic together.
Three encores: “Torpedo,” Travis Tritt’s “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” and “Time Don’t Wait” all gathered around the mic and the audience was frenzied at that point — up on their feet. For a listening room like the Birchmere, this is a rarity. People were reaching on to the stage – Kenny Vaughan and Marty Stuart each parted with a guitar pick or two – and Marty Stuart shook hands back and forth across the stage before the night finally had to end. It was a night of history lessons, songs of troubadours past and present, and the most incredible band you’ll ever see.
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