Vince Gill says he experienced an epiphany as a young musician: “If I kept playing bluegrass, I would never own my own home.”
After a couple of decades as one of country music’s most consistently popular frontmen, Gill now owns what he describes as a “really big house.”
But the visceral thrill of bluegrass still beckons the 54-year-old multi-instrumental master, and at the Birchmere Music Hall on Friday night he led an expansive four-hour set of classics by the likes of Bill Monroe (“You Won’t Be Satisfied That Way,” “My Rose of Old Kentucky”), the Stanley Brothers (“East Virginia Blues”) and Jimmy Martin (“My Walking Shoes”).
Gill manned the mandolin for the bulk of the evening, trading hot solos with the cream of the bluegrass community: D.C.’s own resonator guitar guru Mike Auldridge, banjoist Jim Mills, fiddler Jeff Guernsey, flatpicker Jeff White and upright bassist Dennis Crouch.
The collective was rounded out by Jon Randall, the Nashville singer-songwriter who co-penned the Brad Paisley-Alison Krauss hit “Whiskey Lullaby.” Randall delivered the haunting double-suicide tale with Gill supplying his trademark tenor harmony.
A casually dressed Gill — in blue jeans and flip-flops — was well supplied with war stories about his traditional Oklahoma childhood, his rise up the ranks of the Nashville elite and his battles with weight and the gibing radio jock Don Imus. (If the music career hadn’t panned out, Gill could’ve perhaps made a living doing voice impressions.)
He shoehorned an emotional solo into Friday’s set, with his breakthrough single, “When I Call Your Name,” as well as the amusingly profane outlaw-country favorite “It’s Hard to Kiss the Lips at Night That Chew Your [Expletive] Out All Day Long,” from his 2004 Notorious Cherry Bombs side project.
The latter cut, in its early stages, landed him in the doghouse with his wife, Christian music star Amy Grant. Some time later, Gill said, he spied her from the stage mouthing the chorus alongside a tall beer.
All was well again in the Really Big House.
Galupo is a freelance writer.