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November 27, 2007

Two ‘masters in motion’ — Stuart and McCoury — join forces

When two masters come together, it is more than a show, it is an event. On Saturday at the Brown Theatre, Marty Stuart will perform on a double-bill with the Del McCoury Band.Stuart doesn’t just pay lip service to the artists who built country and bluegrass music. Lester Flatt gave him his first big break at age 12, and Johnny Cash was his father-in-law and employer.In recent years, he has played mandolin on Charlie Louvin’s comeback project and produced Porter Wagoner’s swan song, Wagonmaster. Most recently, Merle Haggard recruited Stuart to play mandolin on his recent Bluegrass Sessions disc, which was released on the McCoury Music label.It is his dedication to the preservation of country music and its legacy that lead Stuart to open an exhibit at the Tennessee State Museum. The exhibit was called “Sparkle and Twang,” and it contained memorabilia from throughout country music history. “I saw it as an important piece of American culture that was not being widely recognized,” he says.As the year winds down, it seemed only fitting that Stuart would partner with his old friends in the Del McCoury Band for the last show of the tour.“Del was one of the chief correspondents for the upper East Coast for the heart, spirit and soul of bluegrass music, and I woke up one day and he’d moved to Nashville,” Stuart says.McCoury, the mild-mannered elder statesman of bluegrass, remembers meeting Stuart for the first time when Stuart was playing in Lester Flatt’s Nashville Grass.“He must have been 13 or 14 when I met him first,” McCoury says of the onetime child prodigy.McCoury, originally from Pennsylvania and now residing just outside Nashville, caught bluegrass fever after hearing Bill Monroe’s seminal 1945 Blue Grass Boys line-up, which featured Flatt and then-unknown banjo player Earl Scruggs. McCoury joined Monroe’s band in 1963.The crisp, clear sound of McCoury’s tenor is an instantly identifiable link to the high-lonesome tones of what he calls the hardcore sound of first generation bluegrass.His band — featuring sons Robbie on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin and fiddler Jason Carter and bass player Alan Bartram — has won more International Bluegrass Music Association awards than anyone. They’ve won IBMA Entertainer of the Year nine of the past 13 years.Unlike many other bluegrass bands, McCoury’s doesn’t limit themselves to the bluegrass circuit. They made their mark right away by putting a bluegrass spin on familiar non-bluegrass songs such as Robert Cray’s “Smoking Gun” and Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.“ They collaborated with Steve Earle on the 1999 album The Mountain, played to an audience of more than 70,000 at the IT Festival hosted by Phish and have become regulars at Bonnaroo. “We were the first bluegrass band to play there,” McCoury says.“They are probably the premier bluegrass band out there these days,” Stuart says. “I call them modern masters in motion.”High praise coming from an artist whose band, The Fabulous Superlatives, consists of bass player Brian Glenn, in-demand session drummer Harry Stinson and the Americana Music Association’s 2000 Musician of the Year, guitarist Kenny Vaughan.Known for their electric honky tonk sets, the Superlatives will unplug for their show with the Del McCoury Band. “We do a few select acoustic shows throughout the year, and this is one of them,” Stuart says.Both artists say they haven’t discussed it, but both confirm that the two bands will probably do some on-stage collaborating. As Stuart says, “We usually find our way onto each other’s stages somehow, and that’s quite alright.” Contact the writer at leo@leoweekly.comMarty Stuart & Del McCoury BandSaturday, Dec. 1W.L. Lyons Brown Theatre315. W. Broadway584-7777$35; 8 p.m.