LIVE: Marty Stuart opens his tour Honky-tonkin’ @ The Egg, 11/16/2019
Saturday’s matinee at The Egg was Marty Stuart’s first show of a tour celebrating the 20th anniversary rerelease of The Pilgrim- Deluxe Edition on double vinyl, with a bonus CD of 10 never before released tracks. Playing with him was a band he calls The Fabulous Superlatives who live up the name: Kenny Vaughan on guitar and vocals, Harry Stinson on a singular drum and vocals, and Chris Scruggs standup bass and vocals.
In concert Stuart performed for an hour and 35 minutes of honky tonk heaven including six songs from Pilgrim he calls his love letter to country music. “Do you remember the ’90s? I don’t,” he cringed. The original Pilgrim album was released on MCA and featured guest appearances from Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, George Jones, Ralph Stanley and others. It enjoyed critical acclaim, but never sold well in the country music boom that went global. “I followed my heart and lost it all,” he told an adoring crowd that hung on his every word and song. Stuart spent six years in the Johnny Cash band. Cash told him the album would succeed. And if Saturday’s performance is any indication, this second expanded release is going to be huge.
It is significant that of all the on-camera comments in Ken Burns’ latest PBS documentary on the history of country music, Stuart got by far the most air time throughout the five episodes and was spot on with his observations about the entire history of the genre.
Next to Kris Kristofferson, he’s is the smartest man in country music.
Like Johnny Cash, the topics of his songs range from A to Z, often telling poignant stories. Never does he resort to rhyming June with moon.
Like Dale Watson, he champions honest country music with crackerjack musicians but, unlike Watson, he avoids dumping on the corporatization of today’s pop country Nashville machine.
The album tells the story of Rita, a wild-eyed young beauty who marries cross-eyed Norman, a Gary Busey lookalike, just to piss off her father. She cheats on Norman with The Pilgrim who doesn’t know she’s married. Norman finds out and kills himself. The Pilgrim is distraught and gives away his possessions. In the song “Pleasure Is Worth The Pain” Stuart quotes The Pilgrim: “You were too wild to tame. I loved you just the same. Sometimes the pleasure’s worth the pain.”
On “Reasons,” he sings “I thought I loved you. I did the best I could. I lost the reason for me living and that just ain’t no good.” On “Even Trains Have To Cry,” one of the new songs from the revised Pilgrim, he explains that trains cry because they’re always hearing somebody say goodbye. There’s always another town, another scene, but he’ll be holding her in his dream. “This song’s never been sung in Albany,” he told an attentive audience. “I’m honky-tonkin’ at The Egg.”
In all, he did six songs from Pilgrim including “Observations of The Crow” sung from the perspective of a crow sitting on a line pole at a truck stop observing the tragedies play out below and including a verse Stuart says his wife country artist Connie Smith wouldn’t let him put in the recording about the crow getting hit between the eyes by a bullet from a B.B. gun while “sitting up here enjoying the show.”
He encored with “Time Won’t Wait:” “The moon is shining on the desert sand. Don’t put off till tomorrow what you can do today. Time won’t wait on nobody. It just keeps moving on and on and on and on and on. Looking for a ride where yesterday meets tomorrow.”
Stuart has been on that ride since he first played with Lester Flatt at 13, a job he held for the next six years.
Like arena rock stars, Stuart’s merch table is a tantalizing smorgasbord of albums, books, t-shirts, hats, bandannas, vinyl, and yo-yos. No, just kidding about that last one! He even had a three-CD collection of 65 songs on a British import called The Definitive Collections Vol. 2. In the liner notes to the beautifully packaged set, Gandulf Herring writes: “He’s the last link to the original greats of country music. Unlike any of his contemporaries, he actually didn’t just bring traditional country music of the ’50 and ’60s back to a younger audience – he has always been a part of it since he started as a child playing for Lester Flatt.” Herring goes on to credit Stuart with accomplishing “a second act,” making new relevant music without making concessions to mainstream or “commercial” fads and trends.
He proved that Saturday afternoon and then some.