By Barry Gilbert
Of the Post-Dispatch


Various Artists
All*Star Bluegrass Celebration
Rainmaker/Sugar Hill

November 18, 2004

The best of bluegrass past, present and future come together in this PBS-presented set, available on CD and DVD, that was used as a pledge-period come-on in 2002. It springs from the peak period of "O Brother, Where Art Thou?" and "Down From the Mountain" interest in old-timey music.

Recorded live at the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn., "Celebration" was produced by the "Austin City Limits" crew, which means it's all music and no gimmicks.

But it's more than just a concert starring host Ricky Skaggs, Vince Gill, Travis Tritt, Allison Krauss, Patty Loveless, Ralph Stanley, Earl Scruggs, the Del McCoury Band and Nickel Creek, among others. It includes brief biographical and historical segments that connect the notes between Irish and Scottish folk music, the blues, bluegrass founder Bill Monroe, the Stanley Brothers, Flatt and Scruggs and today's artists.

In just one performance, McCoury shows where the music came from and how it remains vital and growing, with his version of "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," a story song written by British rocker Richard Thompson, who was a founding member of the great folk band Fairport Convention. McCoury makes the tale of a boy, a girl and a motorcycle ("red hair and black leather/my favorite color scheme") his own.

Other highlights include "Let Me Touch You for Awhile" by Krauss and her great band Union Station, who also have expanded the boundaries of bluegrass with interpretations of pop, rock and country songs; Stanley with Loveless on "Pretty Polly"; Scruggs' "Foggy Mountain Breakdown"; "Darlin' Corey," with pianist Bruce Hornsby joining Skaggs' band Kentucky Thunder; and amazingly talented newcomers Nickel Creek on "Seven Wonders."

But it's the pickin' that's important, and the DVD, which includes three songs not on the CD, provides that vital "you are there" perspective on the musicians in these great bands: guitarists Randy Scruggs and John Jorgensen, dobro wizard Jerry Douglas, and a multitude of mandolinists, fiddlers and banjo players.

When these folks play, bluegrass rocks.