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Ricky Skaggs

Given bluegrass' fondness for quick-fingered chops on acoustic string instruments like fiddle, mandolin, banjo, upright bass, and gee-tar, one could argue that the genre is a kind of backwoods jazz that raced down from the hill country to romp in the muddy waters of the mighty Mississippi. Much like jazz, America's so-called classical music, bluegrass was born and bred in the USA, a rebel groove with deep roots in the blues that requires awesome technique to pull off and tends to make listeners want to jump out of their seats and yelp with joy. The two idioms also share an identity problem — i.e., the terms mean something different to just about anyone you ask — which is no doubt why the producers of this year”s “Hardly” Strictly Bluegrass festival tacked on the curious front-end qualifier, as if to say, “C'mon down, it's all good!”

Featuring more than three dozen acts from the American folk-music tradition — including (but not limited to) country, pop, rockabilly, western swing, cowboy songs, honky-tonk, roots rock, blues, folk, Americana, and, of course, familiar forms of old-time bluegrass — this free, open-air event promises to be the highlight of the concertgoing season. The must-see big names on the three-day bill range from granddaddy of outlaw country Willie Nelson to eclectic pop star Emmylou Harris, altcountry darling Gillian Welch to former finger-pickin' wunderkind Ricky Skaggs. Expect tributes to the Man in Black (the recently deceased Johnny Cash) to take center stage, along with fast-and-fancy string-pluckin' and crazy-high yodels galore, all of it guaranteeing a kind of whoop-it-up merriment that'll be not unlike going hog-wild in a truffley sea o' mud.

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