Alison Krauss and Union Station
with Tim Easton
The Fox Theatre, Atlanta, GA • October 13, 2001
I made a startling conclusion a while back. I like hillbilly music. Sitting in a theatre watching O Brother Where Art Thou with my son, he noted the fact that I was singing along (poorly, he had to add) to most of the songs. “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” “Man of Constant Sorrow,” “You Are My Sunshine” – hell, I knew them all. In this age of cynical pop and gang recruitment rap, I rediscovered my love of what has come to be known as “roots music.” Still can’t sing it a lick, but I find myself listening to more and more of it.
One person who can sing it is Alison Krauss. Graced with an angel’s voice and none-too-shabby fiddling skills, Krauss has become a star in a form of music that most people – at least, the people who read and write for magazines like this one – have long overlooked. She became the youngest member of the Grand Old Opry ever when she joined at age 22, and since then has released several good selling albums featuring her crack band, anchored by Dan Tyminski, former member of The Lonesome River Band, and more notably, the singing voice of George Clooney in O Brother. So when Krauss played the Fox, I went. So did a lot of other people – the show was a near sellout.
One of the great aspects of a show like this is the total lack of disconcerting pretension. No flashy lights, no smoke and mirrors, just a stage full of guitars and a rug. Opening the show with “Let Me Touch You For Awhile” from her new album, New Favorite, Krauss and band just basically stood there and wailed. As a frontperson, Krauss engages in no spotlight hugging or cheerleading, instead letting her magnificent voice fill the air. Her selection of music was first-rate, ranging from hoedowns to pop, all with a country feel. Her closing number, a rousing version of Little Feat’s “Oh, Atlanta,” was a wise choice, given the location of the show, and got the 4000+ crowd on its feet. Her first encore featured “Down in the River to Pray,” one of the songs Krauss performed in O Brother. Tyminski also added his version of “Man of Constant Sorrow,” causing great whoops of recognition from the crowd, many of whom probably wouldn’t know a bluegrass song if it bit them on the tush.
But what elevated the evening to “must see” status was the presence of Jerry Douglas on Dobro. Long regarded as one of the masters of the resonator guitar, Douglas has been a member of Krauss’ band for years, and while he adds a certain depth to her recordings, live he steals the show. The nearest I can describe the experience of Douglas live is this: it was like what I imagine seeing Hendrix or Charlie Parker must have been like. His mastery of the Dobro is so complete that it defines the instrument. Given a solo spot near the end of the show, he dazzled with his speed, and moved you with his tastefulness. A true master.
The show was opened by former Haynes Boys member Tim Easton, who did a fine job armed only with a guitar and harmonica. While his music owes a great debt to Dylan and Steve Earle, his nimble picking and wry lyrics got the crowd, most of whom probably had no idea who he was, on his side.
Alison Krauss is a legend for a reason. Surrounded by her topflight band, she proved that good music is simply that – good music. No lasers, no 90-foot video screens, no bare stomachs. Just some good pickin’. Thank god for that.