Iowa offensive tackle Tristan Wirfs made his mark on Mount Vernon. Many in town made their mark on him, too. Wirfs and his mother, Sarah, took The Gazette on a tour of his hometown, revisiting scenes around what essentially is the one square mile where he grew up. This story is a little about what can hold you back. This is mostly about what moves you forward.

Hoopla

Bluegrass iconoclast Ricky Skaggs bringing his mandolin to the Englert this week

CARSON PHOTOWORKS

Fifteen-time Grammy-winner Ricky Skaggs is coming to the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Aug. 8, with the Kentucky Thunder bluegrass band.
CARSON PHOTOWORKS Fifteen-time Grammy-winner Ricky Skaggs is coming to the Englert Theatre in Iowa City on Aug. 8, with the Kentucky Thunder bluegrass band.

It’s been 60 years since Ricky Skaggs started playing his mandolin, and nearly a half-century since the bluegrass iconoclast performed his first show.

Much like a professional athlete who has competed for many years, musicians suffer from wear and tear. Some recording artists have retired after trying to perform through injuries.

However, Skaggs, 65, elected to have biceps tendon surgery last August.

“If I wanted to continue performing, that’s what I was told that I needed to do,” Skaggs said by phone from his Nashville home.

“The good news is that it’s repaired and it’s fine,” he said. “I told my physical therapist that being a musician should be an Olympic event when I’m playing the really fast songs, which are so challenging.”

Skaggs will be working his right biceps and his repaired rotator cuffs when he performs with his band Kentucky Thunder on Aug. 8 at the Englert Theatre in Iowa City.

“Thanks to the surgery I feel great,” Skaggs said. “I don’t know what I would have done without it. I certainly played enough to cause the damage, but I wouldn’t change a thing.”

If Skaggs didn’t work so hard he wouldn’t have won 15 Grammy Awards, eight CMA Awards and two Dove Awards. The Country Music Hall of Famer also wouldn’t have had a dozen songs that topped the Bluegrass charts and landed in the National Fiddler Hall of Fame. His peers have noticed all of that hard work. His frequent collaborator, vocalist-pianist-songwriter Bruce Hornsby recently gushed when asked about Skaggs.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

“Ricky is a very open-minded musician, who is interested in a broad range of music,” Hornsby said. “It was never a challenge collaborating with him. ... With Ricky, there are no drums, but there’s a lot of rhythm going on. He generates some of the best mandolin chops ever, if not the best.”

Skaggs and Hornsby impressed with an eponymous bluegrass album in 2007. The album, which features traditional folk and bluegrass, includes a loose cover of Rick James’ “Super Freak.”

“I have so much fun with Bruce,” Skaggs said. “The thing I love about him is that he’s not afraid to take chances.”

The same can be said for Skaggs. A generation ago he blended bluegrass and country, which didn’t please his label, Epic.

“When I was really young and working with Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, I learned a lot,” Skaggs said. “I learned with Emmy that you could add bluegrass instrumentation to a country song. But the folks at my record label weren’t crazy about that.

“I was told that bluegrass wouldn’t sell. I didn’t get it. I told them that there is bluegrass music in American Express and Toyota commercials. They had no defense for that. But it was obvious to me. If these people were putting bluegrass music in their commercials to try to grab ears, what about letting me make bluegrass records?”

Skaggs was right. Bluegrass has its audience. His 1981 album, “Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine,” combined bluegrass and roots rock, and made Skaggs a star.

WHAT: Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder

WHERE: Englert Theatre, 221 E. Washington St., Iowa City

WHEN: 7 p.m. Aug. 8

TICKETS: $42 to $62; Englert Box Office, (319) 688-2653 or Englert.org

ARTIST’S WEBSITE: Rickyskaggs.com

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Want to join the conversation?

Consider subscribing to TheGazette.com and participate in discussing the important issues to our community with other Gazette subscribers.

Already a Gazette or TheGazette.com subscriber? Just login here with your account email and password.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.