Augusta seems to have made an impression on country music legend Marty Stuart. He last appeared here a year ago as part of the Southern Soul & Song series co-sponsored by the Morris Museum and the Imperial Theatre.
“I love that theater,” he said in his low tones. “There’s something about — you know, I’m from Mississippi — and when I get to go to a place in the South that still is wrapped in that much culture and heritage, I just dearly love it. Those kinds of theaters just ring true to me.”
This coming from a man who works so incessantly that it’s amazing he remembers his own name, much less a theater he visits once a year. But Stuart said that the Imperial Theatre reminds him of the Ryman Auditorium, which was home to the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn., for 30 years.
“The spirits of the performers who have played there in the past seem to live on,” he said.
And it’s close to the James Brown statue. But most of all, he’s looking forward to seeing the new ladies’ Easter hats in the shops on Broad Street.
“Now that’s a fine boulevard for fashion. Fifth Avenue’s just trying,” he laughed.
Stuart knows how to personalize his experiences in small towns across the nation — after all, he is the host of “Marty Stuart’s American Odyssey” on XM radio’s Channel 2.
“It’s the closest thing to work I’ve ever done in my life,” he sighed. “I love the results, but it’s a lot of work.”
On the show that runs every Friday, Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives band go into towns across America to profile all of the great things the town has produced, from rock ‘n’ roll to honky-tonk, from chefs to comedians. The story is told primarily through a place’s distinctive music. Stuart said that Augusta is on the schedule for 2009.
For his show on March 14, he’ll bring some new songs and a new bass player, Paul Martin.
“I’ve named him the Apostle Paul Martin… it just seemed to fit, because he’s a righteous man,” Stuart said.
And although Stuart is always working on something new — whether it be producing new music or working on a new book for Sourcebooks, with whom he has a five-book deal — he is constantly aware of the past. He has one of the largest collections of county-music memorabilia in the world, some of which is currently on tour to museums around the nation in an exhibition called “Sparkle & Twang.” It opened last summer at the Tennessee State Museum.
“It was the second most successful exhibit in the history of the museum. Genghis Khan beat us, though,” he laughed.
But for a man who grew up in the business, it’s more personal than all that. As a child prodigy, he played with Bill Monroe. As a teen, he joined Johnny Cash. As he moved into middle age, he produced Porter Wagoner’s album “Wagonmaster” and hosted the Grand Ole Opry’s 50th anniversary tribute to Wagoner.
And as years pass, his connection to the history of the industry becomes even more precious. Wagoner died just this past October at the age of 80. But he had been enjoying a rebirth of popularity.
“The only regret I have in all of that is that he didn’t get to finish his victory lap,” Stuart said. “But we got to be a part of a lot of things with him. One of the crowning achievements for me is when we backed him at Madison Square Garden when he opened for the White Stripes. These kids were just screaming at him and it really lit him up. He looked at me and he said, ‘We’re doing pretty good, ain’t we?’ and I said, ‘We’re doing pretty good.’”
Stuart is now, after years of rebellion, a country-music institution. A born-again Christian married to country music’s perennial sweetheart, Connie Smith, he has scored six top-10 hits, released one platinum and five gold albums and has won four Grammy Awards.
The City Club will host a meet-and-greet with Stuart for Golden Horseshoe-level ticket holders. But if that’s out of reach, they’ll also sponsor “The Marty Party,” an after-party for the concert from 9 p.m.-1 a.m.
It will feature a night of bluesy rock ‘n’ roll with Shameless Dave and the Miracle Whips. Admission is free with a concert ticket, and just $5 without.
Marty Stuart & His Fabulous Superlatives
Friday, March 14