The setting seemed vintage and perfect: the Lucketts Community Center, an old rural schoolhouse in Northern Virginia, the scene of the farewell show by the Johnson Mountain Boys Saturday night. On a small, quaint stage so untarnished by time that you half expected a young Patsy Cline to emerge from the wings to perform a song or two, the band said goodbye to a full house and a lot of fans lingering outside who had been turned away at the door.
It would be nice to report that the band's opening set was in some way extraordinary, and certainly for sentimental reasons it was. But the show itself wouldn't have surprised anyone who's followed the group over the years, since more than anything else the performance simply lived up to the Johnson Mountain Boys' long track record of playing traditional bluegrass music with great feeling and finesse. Over the course of an hour, the tunes ranged from the band's earliest recordings to material rehearsed just last weekend, and each member of the ensemble got a chance to shine, with Dudley Connell's aching tenor voice and Eddie Stubbs' spirited fiddle taking highest honors.
Aptly enough, it was Stubbs' blistering rendition of the old war horse "Orange Blossom Special" that brought the set to a close and the audience to its feet. But along the way there were several beautifully harmonized and deftly performed ballads as well, all reminders of how vital the Johnson Mountain Boys have made traditional bluegrass sound for the past 10 years.