Don’t let anyone tell you that bluegrass is dead. Alison Krauss and Union Station’s stellar performance last Saturday night at the Greek Theater is proof that bluegrass is still alive and well. The audience might have been smaller — the 8500 capacity-Greek Theater was only half-filled—but the fans made up for their size with unbridled enthusiasm.
Long considered the Queen of Bluegrass, Krauss showed no signs of ending her reign. Her angelic voice is arguably the best in music today ― only maybe matched by Neko Case on her very best day. There’s a purity to her voice that one rarely hears. She doesn’t need vibrato to hide minor flaws or create a false sense of drama. Krauss can effortlessly invoke vulnerability or joy with only two pitch-perfect notes. She is able to convert technical perfection into an intensely emotional performance. And when she went to belt it, there’s no doubt that even those seated up in the grass could hear her perfectly sans microphone.
At one point, dobro player Jerry Douglas remarked, “Alison sings us to sleep every night on tour.” He clearly meant it as a joke, but the truth of the matter is that getting sung to sleep by Krauss would be akin to winning the lottery.
Even her ordinary speaking voice was unfairly gorgeous. She spoke with a hint of that sing-songy Southern twang — the kind that’s charming and adorable, not dimwitted. Every three to four songs, Krauss would interject with her own commentary. She delighted the audience with her Dolly Parton-esque anecdotes — the best of which featured friend and songwriter Robert Lee Castleman, who apparently lost his dentures while in his yard, only to get a new pair with a gold tooth.
Occasionally, Krauss would annotate the previous song’s narrative with endearingly sarcastic comments. After playing “The Boy Who Couldn’t Hoe Corn,” Krauss paused to advise the crowd, “If you ever have one of those private moments, late at night, and wonder if you should hoe that corn, it’s best to hoe that corn, or somebody might give you the devil.”
Krauss was unquestionably the star, but the band still works best as a cohesive unit. When Krauss departed the stage for Douglas’ 10 minute dobro solo, the audience yearned for her return. A man near me even appeared to take a brief nap in her absence. However, when Krauss indulges in too many melancholy vocal reveries, songs begin to run together, and you miss Dan Tyminski’s biting tenor.
Their playful hoedowns, complete with a banjo, a dobro, a violin, an acoustic guitar, drums, a keyboard and occasionally a mandolin, are truly the crowd-pleasers. In mere moments, they can spur the entire audience into synchronized foot tappin’, head bobbin’, hand clappin’ and body swayin’.
As Alison Krauss and Union Station celebrate their 21st anniversary, they appear to be closer than ever. They aren’t just friends; they have the comfortable ease of a family. And that family dynamic is exactly what made Saturday night’s show special. Every seat might not have been filled, but the people in the audience tended to be deeply devoted fans. They knew every song and every lyric, and to them, Alison Krauss and Union Station were already good friends.