Johnson City, TN

Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder Bring a Bluegrass Christmas to Johnson City

John M. Dabbs

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. — The festive season in Johnson City is set to sparkle with the musical brilliance of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, performing a special Christmas concert at the East Tennessee State University's Martin Center on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. This event isn't just a celebration of the holiday spirit; it showcases a remarkable journey in American music.

Ricky Skaggs' life has been an extraordinary tapestry of musical exploration and achievement. Skaggs has left an indelible mark on American music, from his roots in bluegrass to his foray into mainstream country music and back. By age 21, he was a recognized master of one of America’s most demanding art forms, setting a foundation for a career that would see him blend various musical genres while keeping his bluegrass roots intact.

His journey began over 60 years ago with a mandolin in Cordell, Kentucky. Skaggs, born July 18, 1954, received his first mandolin at five. His talent was evident early on when, at six years old, he performed with bluegrass legend Bill Monroe. Skaggs was playing with Flatt & Scruggs on their popular TV show by age seven, marking his first paycheck for a musical performance.

Skaggs' career took a professional turn in 1971 when he joined Ralph Stanley's band, eventually leading to his participation in influential acts like J. D. Crowe & the New South. His transition to country music in the late 1970s brought him widespread popularity, with 12 #1 hits and a string of awards, including being the youngest inductee into the Grand Ole Opry.

In 1997, Skaggs established Skaggs Family Records, under which he released 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated albums, eight of which won the coveted award. This label also opened doors for various artists, emphasizing bluegrass and roots music. His first release, "Bluegrass Rules!", set new standards in the genre, and his subsequent albums have continued to push boundaries and win accolades.

Ricky Skaggs' success has been a testament to his versatility and ability to cross-pollinate genres. His collaboration with artists like Bruce Hornsby and Ry Cooder and his production work for acts like The Whites and Dolly Parton demonstrate his wide-ranging influence and commitment to his craft.

Skaggs' return to bluegrass in the late 1990s marked a full circle in his career, bringing him back to the roots that fostered his love for music. His 2018 inductions into the National Fiddler Hall of Fame, IBMA’s Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and the Country Music Hall of Fame, among others, underscore his versatility and impact across multiple genres.

In 2020, Ricky Skaggs was awarded the prestigious National Medal of Arts, a testament to his contributions to American music. This honor highlights his role in preserving and advancing the musical legacy of his generation.

As Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder prepare to grace the stage in Johnson City, audiences can expect an evening that encapsulates this incredible journey. The concert is set to reflect Skaggs' lifelong passion for music — a passion that has led him from the church stages of Kentucky to the heights of musical acclaim.

Tickets for this enriching musical experience, blending holiday spirit with a celebration of a storied career, are available at ETSU's Martin Center website or by calling their box office at (423) 439-2787. This concert promises a festive celebration and a glimpse into the heart of American music, as seen through the eyes of one of its most iconic figures.

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John is a writer and journalist with a passion for travel, adventure, and the outdoors. You can find him at HTTP://

Bristol, TN

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