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Bluegrass and country legend to perform in Wilkes-Barre on Friday

Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will perform at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, June 9.
Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder will perform at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, June 9. Skaggs is pictured third from the left.

Fresh off a festival in his home state of Kentucky, country and bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs will perform in downtown Wilkes-Barre this weekend. Skaggs and his band, Kentucky Thunder, will be at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts on Friday, June 9.

Skaggs has won dozens of awards, including 15 Grammys and eight honors from the Country Music Association, in his more than 50 year career. In 2018, he was inducted into three separate institutions: the Country Music Hall of Fame, the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame, and the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.

In an interview with WVIA, Skaggs said he had no idea such high praise – for his songwriting skills and mandolin, fiddle and guitar talents – was coming that year.

“It was an organized conspiracy,” he said, laughing.

“I don’t think anybody that comes to Nashville to try to get a record deal and make a living on the road… I don’t think any of us really come here with [the idea], ‘oh yeah, I’ll work hard and I’ll get in the hall of fame,’” he said. “No, that’s not the way it works.”

Known for hits in the 80s like "Country Boy," “Highway 40 Blues” and “Crying My Heart Out Over You,” Skaggs continued to embrace bluegrass music, often performing instrumental songs with a team of players that honor the genre’s Appalachian roots.

Skaggs said fans in Wilkes-Barre can expect to hear plenty of tunes from across his discography, plus some gospel music and tributes to what he calls the “Mount Rushmore of Bluegrass” – Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs and the Stanley Brothers – in his set on Friday.

Lexington, Kentucky’s Railbird Festival drew 40,000 attendees last weekend, and Skaggs said it felt like a homecoming. The only downside? You can't play for hours at a festival.

“That was really just an unbelievable crowd, and we only had 45 minutes so we really had to choose [songs] wisely,” he said. More artists on the bill meant less time to share the stage. He’s looking forward to his usual 90 minute-to-two hour set at the F.M. Kirby Center.

In another “homecoming,” Skaggs said one of his bandmates will take the stage in his home state this Friday. Russ Carson hails from Mechanicsburg.

Carson plays Banjo in Kentucky Thunder, while Jake Workman (lead guitar), Dennis Parker (guitar, baritone vocals), Gavin Kelso (bass), Mike Rogers (rhythm guitar, tenor vocals) and Billy Contreras (fiddle) round out the group.

"I’m so glad to get to work with really top-notch musicians like these guys," Skaggs said. "They’re just amazing."

Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder perform after Scranton’s South Side Five open up the evening at 8 p.m. this Friday.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.