Eric 2010/02/28 7:18am

I have been a Stanley Brothers fan for a long time. I first became aware of them as a kid back in the early 80s when I heard a few cuts of them on the radio. The sound was raw and haunting. I didn't know what I liked about it, but what I heard made me feel happy and uneasy at the same time. I think the best music has a beautiful tension. Ralph Stanley writes in his new book that the Stanley sound has been compared to the wind blowing in the trees, a dead-on description.

I told my dad not long ago that some day we're going to look back at other acts that we play with at the festivals and marvel that we breathed the same air. We have been on the festival scene now for over twenty years, veterans now, not starry-eyed newbies, and don't really concern ourselves with who is going to be playing on the same bill. We try to take care of our own business. We get caught up in the grind of travel, learning new material, recording, and balancing home life. Sometimes at the festivals, a bluegrass hero is onstage, and in the blur of selling product, visiting with other musicians and music fans, calling home, or even trying to scrounge up something to eat, I miss out on all the music but our own. I look back on the greats we've lost since we've been in the game: Bill Monroe, Charlie Waller, John Duffey, John Hartford, Jimmy Martin...the list goes on and on. How I'd love to hear them all sing again. I don't want to take any of the living legends for granted, especially after reading some Ralph.

I felt like I'd stolen a moment, or at least walked in on a memory or two. It was two summers ago at the Bean Blossom Bluegrass Festival in Bean Blossom, IN, Bill Monroe's old stomping grounds and the scene of so many important bluegrass shows. When I went backstage to get my banjo, I came upon Ralph Stanley looking at the old pictures on the wall of all the legends who'd graced the Bean Blossom stage. I had looked at them myself earlier in the day, shots candid and historic at the same time. I had even seen photos of a much younger Dr. Ralph. I'm not sure what he was looking at, but it was the same wall, and I froze. I did not want to intrude. I tried to tiptoe behind him to get my banjo, but he turned quickly with a smile and said, "Well, hello there" as he shook my hand. I don't believe he knew me, but he acted like he was happy to see me. I felt my face break into a grin, patted him on his left arm, and asked, "How are you doing, Ralph?" His little smile left, and he replied, "I've seen better days" in that timeless voice, the voice that has stirred so many thousands of souls. He may have been talking about those days captured on that Bean Blossom wall.

As Ralph's voice rang alone through those tall Indiana trees on "O, Death" a few minutes later, I stood in the crowd, happy and uneasy.