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Stagecoach 2009: The roots of bluegrass with Earl Scruggs

April 25, 2009 |  8:39 pm


A tree can grow and sprout healthy branches only if the roots are strong, and 85-year-old bluegrass founding father Earl Scruggs helped make sure of that Saturday on the Mustang Stage.

It’s understandable he sticks to his chair these days, and even seated doesn’t move around much. He did crack an ear-to-ear smile when his son and bassist Gary Scruggs told a worshipful audience that his dad had just turned 85 and led them in a collective cheer of “Happy birthday, Earl!”

The fundamentals were there in a performance of “In the Pines” that defined “tradition”: spot-on multilayered harmonies, exquisite interplay among guitars, Earl’s banjo, bass, drums and fiddle. OK, so Bill Monroe would have looked askance at the electric bass and drums when he pioneered bluegrass decades ago. But some nods to modernity are to be expected.

That came on the heels of an invigorating presentation of Bob Dylan’s “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere,” as popularized by the Byrds. An a cappella four-part harmony run-through of the chorus, topped by Gary Scruggs’ Roger McGuinn-worthy lead vocal, was the stuff goosebumps are made of.

In his quietly masterful way, Earl Scruggs embodies the notion of “pluck.”

-- Randy Lewis

Photo credit: Getty Images