Bryan Sutton Band
Fletcher Opera Theater, Raleigh
Friday, Feb. 13, 2015
Just before Valentine's Day, the eight-time International Bluegrass Music Association Guitarist of the Year Bryan Sutton returned to Raleigh. This performance was unique in that Sutton, instead of backing a variety of other leading players, was out front himself, leading his own Bryan Sutton Band. In the past, Sutton has tended to be the "hired gun" for a variety of bands, most recently Hot Rize. His backing band included a younger yet quite talented bunch of musicians. Just as Sutton once played under Ricky Skaggs, Tony Rice, Tim O'Brien and Sam Bush, he was shepherding the next generation—Casey Campbell on mandolin, Mike Barnett of fiddle, Sam Grisman of bass.
Sutton split the evening into two sets, performing a handful of numbers from his latest Sugar Hill Records release, Into My Own. The group found a comfortable groove with "Cumberland Reel," a number that features soaring instrumental bits from each member of the group but allows enough space for the airy melody not to seem forced. The newly written instrumental is very visual, too, like a leaf carried by the breeze before it lands.
Shortly thereafter, local banjo impresario Jim Mills emerged as a surprise guest. Mills spent years with Sutton playing for Ricky Skaggs, so the evening served as a reunion of sorts. The group cooked as they flew through a rendition of "Swannanoa Tunnel," a song titled after the western North Carolina area where Sutton grew up.
After the group walked off-stage to a standing ovation, Sutton returned to perform an unnamed instrumental—just himself and his guitar. Just as he walked back onstage to a standing ovation, he left to one, too.