The one hundred and ten dollar ticket price was, admittedly, steep, but Vince Gill made sure that every person inside Alexandria’s Birchmere Music Hall got every penny’s worth and more at Thursday night’s show.
Gill has had dozens of hits on the Country charts, but last night’s show (the first of a two night stand) was devoted to Bluegrass, one of his true loves. His coke-bottle glasses and over-sized golf shirt were symbolic of the night: no. b.s., just straight up playing. Part historian and part stand-up comedian, with a true gift for impersonations that included June Carter Cash and Del McCoury, Gill talked almost as much as he sang for the nearly four hour show; including personal recollections of experiences with his heroes, like Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs.
The jokes were mostly corny, but never failed to generate genuine laughs from the ecstatic fans–they knew up front that they were going to a Bluegrass jam, not a greatest hits concert. Gill’s band of top notch pros left the stage after two and a half hours, so that he could pick up an acoustic guitar (he’d played only Mandolin up to that point) and play several songs from his own catalog. “I don’t want y’all goin’ away mad,” he said, referring to the lack of his best known material in the night’s set list. He needn’t have worried.
Speaking lovingly of his father, his mother, his children and his heroes, it seemed Gill had an anecdote for every occasion and every person in his life. Legendary Dobro guitarist (and DC area native) Mike Auldridge was a peaceful presence onstage, calmly lighting the strings on fire without breaking a sweat, and Gill’s voice broke when he told Auldridge how much he’d always looked up to him, and how Gill’s own mother appreciated her son’s attempts at playing Dobro above all his other musical accomplishments.
But he saved his most tender tribute for his wife, musician Amy Grant. It’s hard to remember a performer ever giving such a lengthy and sweet description of his spouse onstage–it felt more like a conversation that might take place in his living room. But the tender moment served as an intro to a song he’d written for Grant, but has never recorded called, “Red Words,” referring to highlighted passages in a Bible.
The musicianship was a virtual Master Class for every instrument on the stage, and every man played with sure-handed dexterity known only to veteran session players. The vocal harmonies blended so well, you could close your eyes and hear several voices that sounded like just one.
He kept joking that he didn’t feel like going to an empty hotel room and that he’d rather just stay and play all night-and he almost did! Recalling his memories of being a “nobody” who played the Birchmere for the first time in the company of John Prine put a smile on every face in the crowd.
Birchmere owner Gary Oelze was booking Bluegrass Bands in the earliest incarnations of the music hall, back when almost no one else was. And on this night, at least one Country Superstar, a Dobro playing legend, and 500 fans all showed their appreciation to him.
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