- The Washington Times - Monday, June 7, 2004

Any soul who chanced to wander uninformed onto the Wolf Trap grounds in Vienna Wednesday may have been surprised to find picnickers popping wine bottles open in the midst of the old-time revival taking place on stage in the Filene Center.

Not that it bothered the performers in the “Great High Mountain Tour,” which featured Alison Krauss, Ralph Stanley, the Whites, Norman and Nancy Blake, the Nashville Bluegrass Band and a host of others.

Centered around the music from the films “Cold Mountain” and “O Brother, Where Art Thou?,” the tour also introduced some fresh faces to the bluegrass faithful. The musical selections were decidedly traditional and evangelical. Nearly half the program was comprised of unaccompanied voices in harmony.

The tour was organized by T Bone Burnett, who also produced soundtracks for both films. Mr. Burnett earned critical acclaim — and much gratitude from bluegrass fans — for using traditional American songs and giving the music a higher profile. This marks the third incarnation of spinoff tours following the 2000 release of “O Brother.”

The program started with a Sacred Harp Singers piece, “I Don’t Care to Stay Here Long,” led by Tim Eriksen in the eerie, shape-note fashion in which dozens of performers sing four-part harmony literally at the top of their lungs, a style of music featured in “Cold Mountain.”

In the back row, behind lesser-known performers, Alison Krauss joined in the singing.

The fiddle player-vocalist performed on both soundtracks and acted as hostess, playing and singing with her band, Union Station, featuring Jerry Douglas on resophonic guitar, as well as with other performers in the ensemble.

But it was her sideman, Dan Tyminsky, the singing voice of George Clooney in “O Brother,” who brought down the house with “Man of Constant Sorrow,” the film’s theme song, to end the concert’s first half.

The venerable Ralph Stanley came onstage just before 10 p.m. at the close of the program, which began earlier than most Wolf Trap concerts at 7:30 p.m. He received a standing ovation when he appeared in his sequined tuxedo, backed by the Nashville Bluegrass Band and guitarist Norman Blake, to sing “Room at the Top of the Stairs” and an a cappella version of his “O Brother” show-stopper “O Death,” dramatically lighted from behind.

Mr. Stanley, 77, one of the few first-generation bluegrass performers still touring, led the ensemble in a finale of “Angel Band,” a Stanley Bros. song featured in “O Brother.” For an encore, he led the audience in a call-and-response version of “Amazing Grace.”

Between the big-name stars, however, were some truly outstanding performances from folks who weren’t featured in either film.

The Reeltime Travelers, an Appalachian string band from Johnson City, Tenn., brought an ethereal sound to the stage with “Little Bird of Heaven,” written and sung by the band’s guitarist, Martha Scanlan. They followed with an instrumental medley in which fiddle player Heidi Andrade showed off her clogging skills while the band played “Old Joe Clark,” before she grabbed her fiddle and shifted the band into overdrive for “Breaking Up Christmas.”

Ollabelle, the six-piece, traditionally inspired band, lent orchestrated harmonies to performances of “The Storms are on the Ocean” from the Carter family and a Blind Willie Johnson gospel rocker, “John the Revelator.” But little Sierra Hull, age 12, of Byrdstown, Tenn., stole the show — and many hearts — with her impeccable mandolin playing and harmonies with brother Cody Hull, 15, on guitar. After an a cappella gospel song, the youngsters tore into a blistering version of “Salt Creek.”

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