"That was a pretty good piece of rockabilly realty,” Marty Stuart said of the house he and his wife used to own—sandwiched between Johnny and June Carter Cash and Roy Orbison's homes in Hendersonville, Tennessee—as he launched into a story about seeing the Big O himself washing his car in the driveway—while wearing a red velvet jumpsuit. Of course.
“A pretty good piece of rockabilly realty” is actually a great way to describe Stuart himself. His proximity to greatness is undeniable, but the fame he rightfully deserves has somehow eluded him. Stuart is a songwriting, guitar-shredding, mandolin-pickingcountry-music-history-buff with stories to tell and is as charming as the day is long. He told the crowd jokingly that the only two jobs he'd ever had were working for Johnny Cash and Lester Flatt—but that's not the half of it.
Flanked by his band, The Fabulous Superlatives, who were wearing baby blue western suits that would have made Nudie Cohn proud, Stuart took the stage dressed all in black with his trademark ascot and hair perfectly in place. Starting with the country classic “Stop the World and Let Me Off,” Stuart and his band tore through both country staples, originals and gospel music with high lonesome harmonies and seamless sound.
While the evening was full of highlights, there were three decidedly stand-out moments. The first was Stuart's masterful solo version of “Orange Blossom Special” on his mandolin, where Stuart plucked out rapid-fire notes over a driving rhythm. When it was over, he shrugged and told the audience, “Some nights are better than others.” The second was a tribute to guitarist Grady Martin, with the iconicMarty Robbins ballad “El Paso,” which, because of its detailed narrativeStuart likened to “Singing Mount Rushmore.” The last was a rousing whole-band cover/audience sing along of “Mama Tried,” which was of course written and performed by a close personal friend of Stuart's, the late Merle Haggard.
For an encore, Stuart took audience requests, and while the responses were varied, no one in the crowd requested his biggest hit, “Hillbilly Rock” or any other radio hit. The requests were all back catalog songs,including “Reasons,” which left even Stuart a little stumped, trying to find the first few bars. After the set was over, Stuart and his band did a meet-and-greet in The State Room's lobby. “We want to meet you,” he told the crowd, saying they hoped to make new friends on their first-ever visit to Salt Lake City.
After covering the sad George Jones song, “The Old, Old House” Stuart looked at the crowd and smiled, “I know it,” he said. “That's country music right there.” And there's no doubt that his audience left the state room last night saying the same thing.