Two years ago this month, the Birchmere produced "Grass of '80," a bluegrass spectacular at Lisner Auditorium. The concert drew on a wealth of talent -- the original and current members of the Seldom Scene and the Country Gentlemen, as well as the early, unsurpassed edition of the New South.

For the musicians -- among them, John Starling, Charlie Waller, John Duffey, Mike Auldridge, J.D. Crowe, Ricky Skaggs and Tony Rice -- the experience was part family reunion, part concert. For listeners, the lineup was simply mind-boggling. Happily, the music this stellar gathering produced was recorded. Though "Bluegrass: The Greatest Show on Earth" was slow in coming, it's well worth the wait.

Choosing highlights from a double-record set that's this consistent isn't easy. But John Duffey's masterful and innovative mandolin-playing provides a common thread that runs through the satisfying sounds of the Country Gentlemen, John Starling's triumphant return and the Scene's impeccable ensemble performances. The reconstructed New South's instrumental wizardry takes up a full side, highlighted by the runaway "Fireball."

A high-spirited concert album and a crash course in Washington bluegrass history, "The Greatest Show on Earth" is that rare thing -- a super session that delivers what it promises. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM SELDOM SCENE, COUNTRY GENTLEMEN & NEW SOUTH -- Bluegrass: The Greatest Show on Earth (Sugar Hill 2201). THE SHOW SELDOM SCENE, every Thursday at the Birchmere and this Sunday at 3 at Lisner Auditorium, appearing with John Starling and the Ready Section Band and the Johnson Mountain Boys.