When 15-time Grammy winner and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder take the stage at The Michigan Theater in Ann Arbor on May 25, people will get a master lesson in the music pioneered by Bill Monroe, Carter and Ralph Stanley, Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. But the show won’t be entirely rooted in the past: Skaggs’ decades-long commitment to young musicians and music education will be on full display.
Opening for Skaggs is The Saline Fiddlers Philharmonic, a show band comprised of high school students from Saline, Michigan that has brought American, Celtic and European fiddle tunes to The White House, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, and audiences across North America and Europe for a quarter century. The group was founded in 1994 by former Saline High School orchestra director Bob Phillips, now the director of string publications for Alfred Music. The show is a benefit for the Fiddlers, which is an independent non-profit organization.
All of the Fiddlers are also members of Saline’s highly-respected orchestra, band and choir programs, which have produced a number of highly-acclaimed professional musicians including two-time Grammy nominee Jeremy Kittel (nominated in 2019 for best instrumental composition) and three-time Grammy nominee Bonnie Rideout.
“I really feel like music should be something that is in every school because kids want to have a way of expressing their heart,” Skaggs told the CMA Foundation this week. “It feeds songwriting, it feeds even math. My math skills were much, much greater because I was a musician. As a writer, it has helped me so much.”
Through the CMA Foundation, the country music community, including Skaggs, has invested more than $21 million into over 87 music education programs across all 50 states.
Skaggs' support for young, up and coming musicians like Sierra Hull and Carson Peters is legendary, and it was inspired by the way his own career was fostered by his musical heroes.
“My dad was a welder. He was out of town a lot. So, he came home and brought a little small mandolin and struck it in my bed when I was five years old,” Skaggs said. “That was the greatest gift of all time. I just took to it like a fish in water.”
Within a year, he appeared on stage with Bill Monroe and at age 7, he had a guest turn on the Flatt & Scruggs TV show. While still a teenager, Skaggs and his best friend Keith Whitley joined Ralph Stanley’s Band the Clinch Mountain Boys.
Recalling those early performances for the Nashville Tennessean, Skaggs said, “Those acts of kindness, whether I realized it or not, had done something to my spirit and my mind."
Tickets for Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder with special guests The Saline Fiddlers are available at Ticketmaster.com.