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All about the GrassRoots Festival, happening annually in Trumansburg, NY.

GrassRoots at 30: Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives keep the flame of traditional country music burning bright

6D 5845-18 Marty Stuart _5-15-5845.jpg
Karen Vaughan
kbvaughan photography
Marty Stuart performs at the Center for the Arts in Homer in May 2018.

The GrassRoots Festival will get a mighty dose of twang this weekend when Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives perform on the Grandstand stage at 7 p.m. Saturday, July 23.

Widely known as the leading torchbearers of traditional country music, Stuart and his bandmates – drummer Harry Stinson, guitarist Kenny Vaughan, and bassist Chris Scruggs – are beloved by many of their peers.

“I think that's one of the best bands out there,” said Jim Lauderdale, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter who is performing at GrassRoots Friday night. “But for country music that's it's about as good as it gets, with the singing and picking and songs – it's pretty amazing.”

Gifted on guitar (he owns Clarence White's famed B-bender Telecaster) and mandolin, Stuart first emerged as a solo artist in the mid-1980s after touring for years with Lester Flatt and Johnny Cash (his former father-in-law), releasing a string of well-received albums that produced hits such as “Hillbilly Rock,” “Tempted,” “The Whiskey Ain’t Working” (a duet with Travis Tritt), “Little Things,” and more. Around the turn of the century, he put out a series of ambitious albums that included “The Pilgrim,” “Country Music,” “Soul’s Chapel,” and “Badlands.”

Along the way, he hosted “The Marty Stuart Show,” a television program based on the classic country shows of the 1950s and 1960s that ran from 2008 to 2014 and remains in constant reruns on the RFD-TV network, and published several books that showcased his photography and curatorial talents. He also has won five Grammy Awards.

On July 8 – the 25th anniversary of his marriage to the legendary country singer Connie Smith – Stuart called from Detroit, where he and his band were set to open for Chris Stapleton at Comerica Park – a stadium venue much bigger than where he usually performs.

“It’s a reminder that you can't ever rest on your laurels because you have to pull your A game for these shows,” Stuart said.

Karen Vaughan
kbvaughan photography
Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives -- from left, Kenny Vaughan, Stuart, Harry Stinson, and Chris Scruggs -- perform at the Center for the Arts in Homer in October 2021.

That gig was unlike Stuart’s recent visits to Central New York, where he played the Center for the Arts in Homer in 2018 and 2021. He felt right at home in the 400-seat former church.

“I love that place,” he said. “Because, as I probably said on stage, our band was sort of started on gospel songs. So when those kind of places come around, we can just get back into the kind of songs that got us started.”

Stuart’s last studio recording, “Way Out West,” was released in 2017, and he also released a series of recordings titled “Songs I Sing In The Dark” during the pandemic. What’s next on the album release front?

“Well, we actually have three stacked up on the shelf,” he said, “and one is the next record called ‘Altitude,” which was just basically a continuance of what we started on ‘Way Out West.’ I think it will be released next year.”

Stuart’s other current project is the Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music, a $30 million museum and performing arts center in his hometown of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Why there, instead of Nashville, which is considered the capital of country music?

“Because Nashville probably has all it needs of that, and if we put it in a place like that, perhaps we’d get lost there,” Stuart said. “In the state of Mississippi, there's a lot going on. Certainly, there are musical institutions that you know: the Elvis Presley birthplace, the BB King Delta Blues Museum, and the Grammy Museum (in Cleveland, Miss.). And when you cross the state line, a sign says ‘Welcome to Mississippi, the birthplace of America's music,’ and they can back that up. So it's just about joining in on what's been going on for a long time, and country music will finally get the voice down there.”

It will also provide a home for Stuart’s famed collection of country music memorabilia, which has grown to an immense size.

“Yeah, you know, I was wondering what to do with it,” he said. “It just didn't seem right to sell it, so it became a repository for that collection, where people can go and study and learn and be informed and inspired by it.”

Looking back on his half-century career in country music – he joined Lester Flatt’s band when he was just 13 – the 63-year-old Stuart is grateful for the varied path he’s taken.

“Well, the truth of the matter is, my goal was just to stand up there on stage in one spot and sing songs with my guitar,” he said with a laugh. “I thought I could do what George Strait or Alan Jackson did, and just stand there. But it did not work out that way for me. So I had to hit it from all directions. But as a result of that, it's been a pretty amazing creative life, and very diverse.”

To learn more, visit: https://martystuart.net/

If You Go

Who: Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives

When: 7 p.m. Saturday

Where: Grandstand Stage

Website: https://www.grassrootsfest.org/

Read all of our GrassRoots coverage here!

6D 5823-18 Marty Stuart _5-15-5823.jpg
Karen Vaughan
kbvaughan photography
Marty Stuart performs at the Homer Center for the Arts in May 2018.

Jim Catalano covers the Finger Lakes music scene for WITH (90.1 FM in Ithaca, WITHradio.org) and its affiliates.