When Dobro master Jerry Douglas was asked to put together a set to cap off the World of Bluegrass set at Red Hat Amphitheater, he knew he needed to assemble a can’t-miss team. And so he brought in The Ringers.
“When you call in a ringer, it automatically means you’ve called in a pinch hitter or somebody who’s gonna hit a home run,” he said. “So I thought that’d be a good name for the band, because everybody in the band can be in that position. They can knock it out of the park on their instrument and personalities and everything.”
The Ringers — a supergroup of sorts — will take the stage Saturday, Sept. 28, at 8 p.m. This is the first year all Red Hat acts are free, though some ticketed reserved seats are available.
Other highlight acts at Red Hat include former IBMA winners, current nominees, a tribute to Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard on Saturday as well as an all-star set with Del McCoury Band, Dierks Bentley, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jon Fishman (of Phish) and Sierra Hull.
Douglas’ team includes Ronnie McCoury of the Del McCoury Band and The Travelin’ McCourys on mandolin and vocals; Grammy-award-winning bassist Todd Phillips; and sought-after fiddle sideman Christian Sedelmyer, who attended Wake Forest University and is half of the duo 10 String Symphony.
Dan Tyminski, a longtime member of Alison Krauss & Union Station (which also features Douglas) will play guitar and sing. If his voice sounds familiar, it could be because he was the singing voice coming out of George Clooney’s mouth in the 2000 movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” (If his voice sounds familiar to your teenagers, it might be because of his hit collaboration “Hey Brother” with the late electronic artist Avicii.)
“I just made these calls and everybody said yes,” said Douglas, “which kind of freaked me out a little bit.”
All have collaborated with Douglas before — in Union Station, The Bluegrass Album Band, The Jerry Douglas Band, or in the recording studio — but not at the same time, on the same stage.
And it may well be that they never do it again.
“I made the stipulation to everybody, I said, ‘OK, guys, no pressure, this is a one-time thing. We’re just going to get together, we’re going to play as good as we can, we’re gonna have fun,” Douglas said.
With everyone’s busy schedules in their own bands and tours, it was unrealistic to try to put together something lasting, Douglas said. And besides, with business concerns and logistics out of the way, the focus can stay on the music and the fun.
The Ringers setlist
He says the band was made in the mold of Tony Rice’s iconic “Manzanita” album from 1979 — a progressive bluegrass feel and the notable absence of a banjo. There, and in The Ringers, the Dobro takes the banjo’s rhythmic role and helps drive the music along.
Once all the band members were on board, Douglas made a big list of songs, and The Ringers got to work.
Some of the songs on the list were new to the band’s members, and Douglas said that was, in part, by design, to see what his friends could do with them. The Ringers, so far, have been up for the challenge.
“It’s all about learning something new, because just about all these songs are tunes we’ve never done,” said McCoury. “That’s the nervous excitement about it, I guess you’d call it.”
But because these five musicians are familiar with each other — and mutual fans of each other’s work — any worries have tended to melt away with each meeting and rehearsal.
“It’s just relaxed around Jerry,” McCoury said. “The guy, he just makes you feel that way.
“We’re all somewhat spread out in age and in the way that we grew up,” McCoury said.
That means some of the band’s younger members grew up listening to albums featuring Douglas and Phillips, both of whom were in the Bluegrass Album Band — a supergroup from an earlier era that also included Rice and J.D. Crowe. That band was conceived in the 1980s as one generation of bluegrass greats paying tribute to the generation that came before.
But The Ringers will unite multiple generations all on one stage, all at one time.
“When somebody that’s your hero welcomes you in and just makes you feel like you’re on the same level, you know, it’s a great feeling,” McCoury said.
Wide Open Bluegrass shows are Friday and Saturday at Red Hat Amphitheater, with the Wide Open Bluegrass Streetfest on Fayetteville Street and around downtown Raleigh. Tickets for reserved seats are available at Red Hat, but general admission is free. For details and a map, go to worldofbluegrass.org.
Here is the Red Hat Amphitheater lineup:
Friday, September 27
5 p.m. — Sister Sadie
6:05 p.m. — Balsam Range
7:15 p.m. — Molly Tuttle
8:25 p.m. — I’m With Her (Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarsoz, Aoife O’Donovan)
Saturday, September 28
5 p.m. — “You Gave Me a Song: Celebrating the Music of Hazel Dickens & Alice Gerrard” featuring Alice Gerrard, Laurie Lewis, Allison de Groot & Tatiana Hargreaves, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Justin Hiltner, Jon Weisberger and Eliza Meyer
6:10 p.m. — Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen
7:15 p.m. — Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
8 p.m. — The Ringers featuring Jerry Douglas, Ronnie McCoury, Todd Phillips, Christian Sedelmyer and Dan Tyminski (rescheduled from Friday)
8:30 p.m. — Del McCoury Band, with Dierks Bentley, Sam Bush, Jerry Douglas, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Jon Fishman (of Phish) and Sierra Hull
Whole Hog Barbecue Championship
What goes better with bluegrass music than barbecue? The annual championship will be Saturday, Sept. 28, with all-you-can-eat barbecue from 28 award-winning pitmasters. The championship, according to the contest’s website, features winners from a series of cookoffs around the state. They’re competing for best whole hog barbecue but also best sauce, crispy skin, blind-taste juding and a people’s choice award.
Find the barbecue at 2 E. South Street, in front of the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.
Admission gets you all the ‘cue you want. Proceeds go to the InterFaith Food Shuttle and the IBMA Bluegrass Trust Fund. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 day-of. wholehogbarbecue.com