Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

He is a member of the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, the Musicians Hall of Fame, the National Fiddler Hall of Fame and the Gospel Music Association Hall of Fame. He has 15 Grammy Awards and more Country Music Association and Academy of Country Music Awards than most artists can dream of. Ricky Skaggs has truly spent “a life full of music,” and he and Kentucky Thunder will again grace The Lyric stage with songs from his long and illustrious career, including “Sis Draper,” “Return to Sender” and “Road to Spencer.”

Skaggs was born in Kentucky and first took the stage at 6, playing the mandolin with bluegrass pioneer Bill Monroe. When Monroe came to town for a performance, the crowd wouldn’t let up until “Little Ricky Skaggs” got up to play. The father of bluegrass called the boy up and put his own mandolin around his neck, adjusting the strap to fit the boy’s frame. By 7, he was appearing on television with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. Still a teen, he began his professional career in 1971, when he and his friend Keith Whitley were invited to join the legendary Ralph Stanley band, the Clinch Mountain Boys. He never looked back.

Not content with the status quo, and always reaching into new realms, Skaggs pushed the limits of the bluegrass genre with progressive bands such as Country Gentlemen and J.D. Crowe and the New South. By the late 1970s, he had turned his focus to mainstream country music and joined Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band. In 1981, he released his debut album, Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine, which topped the country charts with two Number One hits. His stay at Epic Records would result in 12 Number One hits and garnered him eight Country Music Association Awards including the coveted Entertainer of the Year trophy in 1985.

In 1997, Skaggs returned to his bluegrass roots with Bluegrass Rules! released on his newly-formed Skaggs Family Records label. A series of Grammy-Award winning albums with his band, Kentucky Thunder, followed. Kentucky Thunder was winning awards of its own, as eight-time winners of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s “Instrumental Group of the Year.”

Kentucky Thunder has been a big part of Skaggs’ musical life for many years. Their album, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals, in 2006, debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s bluegrass album chart and earned Skaggs his 12th Grammy. He has said that this configuration of Kentucky Thunder has some of the best musicians he has ever worked with.

“This group of musicians meets my approval every night,” he said. “Each and every one of the pickers in Kentucky Thunder totally amazes me in every show…and that, to me, outweighs any award we could ever win.” The line-up includes Russ Carson on banjo, Jake Workman on lead guitar, Dennis Parker on baritone vocals and guitar, Gavin Kelso on bass, Mike Rogers on tenor vocals and rhythm guitar, and Billy Contreras on fiddle.

The year 2020 was a banner year for Ricky Skaggs. He achieved a longtime goal his mother had set for him when Lawrence County High School in Louisa, Kentucky, gave him an honorary diploma for his work in music. It came almost 50 years after his mother imagined it would. “It was an amazing surprise and answered prayer of my mom,” he said. “She wanted me to graduate before I went full-time with Ralph Stanley on the road.”

Also in 2020, Skaggs was awarded the prestigious National Medal of the Arts, the highest award given to artists and art patrons by the United States government. It was given for his contributions to the American music industry and for creating and producing bluegrass music that preserves the music legacy of the most talented artists of his generation for succeeding generations.

For Ricky Skaggs, it has been about making and keeping alive the roots music that is so much a part of the fabric of our society. Quite simply, he wants to share the music he loves with audiences across the country and around the world. Another legend, Chet Atkins, once credited Ricky Skaggs with “single-handedly saving country music,” but he continues to forge ahead with cross-cultural, genre-bending musical ideas and inspirations.

Come spend some time with the man, his band, and a lifetime of music.