Washtenaw County, in festivals near Whitmore Lake and Milan. But last January's Folk Festival was his first appearance in Ann Arbor in many years.
Stanley has played fewer festivals over the last couple of years, and not because of advancing age. Bill Monroe, the creator of bluegrass and the only other figure in the tradition with influence equal to Stanley's, was on the road right up to his death just shy of eighty-five. Instead it's because, after all these years, he's become venerated. As a little wave of interest in bluegrass crested a few years ago, rock producer T-Bone Burnett and some other influential people realized that one of the music's founding fathers was still alive and kicking. His rendition of "O Death" was the best thing about the hit film O Brother, Where Art Thou? At age seventy-seven, Stanley visited the big concert stages and outdoor summer music theaters, and with Burnett he recorded Ralph Stanley, his first solo album, backed not by his Clinch Mountain Boys but by a group of musicians specially selected for the project. Big-time publicity was applied to Ralph's inimitable tenor voice, which sounds much as it did forty years ago.