Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives Put on Fantastic Traditional Country Music Show at Conway's Toad Suck Daze
by Julian Spivey
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives put on a terrific show of traditional country music for fans attending the 36th annual Toad Suck Daze Festival in downtown Conway, Ark. on Saturday, May 5.
Stuart, who’s been on the road performing since he was 12 years old, has pretty much become the poster artist for keeping things traditional with a show featuring everything from traditional country music, bluegrass, gospel, rockabilly and even surf rock making for a fascinating set. He’s pretty much become country music royalty having performed as a teenager in Lester Flatt’s bluegrass band, been a son-in-law of the legendary Johnny Cash and currently married to Country Music Hall of Famer Connie Smith.
The phenomenally talented foursome opened their show on Saturday night with the terrific “Sundown in Nashville,” which appeared on the group’s 2003 album Country Music. Stuart had a string of hits in the early ‘90s on the country charts before going back to his more traditional roots in the latter part of the decade and into the ‘00s and often staggers them together in concert to get fans who know him from radio into the mood. This includes his multiple Grammy-winning collaborations he recorded with Travis Tritt, “The Whiskey Ain’t Working” and “This One’s Gonna Hurt You (For a Long, Long Time).” His biggest hit as a solo artist in the ‘90s was “Tempted,” which is my personal favorite of his, and I’m thankful he still breaks it out in concert. I wish he would bring out his top 10 hit “Burn Me Down,” from 1992, but I’ve seen him now in three consecutive years and I don’t believe he’s done it once.
Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are the reigning Group of the Year at the Americana Awards thanks to their excellent 2017 release Way Out West, which they broke out a few tracks of during the show with the surf rock instrumental “Mojave,” with “Cousin Kenny” Vaughan showing off his great guitar skills, and the harmonizing ballad of “Old Mexico.” It would’ve been nice to hear the group perform more stuff from that excellent album, but I believe they wanted to keep the festival crowd entertained by performing more stuff they would know and be able to groove and sing along with.
The truly great thing about the Fabulous Superlatives is they aren’t just an amazing backing band, but all talented vocalists and each member: Vaughan, bassist Chris Scruggs (from a music royalty family himself) and drummer “Handsome Harry” Stinson each getting a chance to shine at the microphone themselves. Vaughan performed the guitar driven “Country Music Got a Hold on Me” and “Hot Like That,” Scruggs performed “Never Gonna Do It Again” and Stinson showed off his fantastic voice on Woody Guthrie’s folk traditional “Pretty Boy Floyd” and a Johnny Horton cover “Let Me Down Easy.”
Having great respect for classic country music Stuart and the band always break out some great covers during their set like Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire,” Marty Robbins’ “El Paso” and the traditional “Orange Blossom Special,” with Stuart telling a great story of meeting the song’s writer Ervin T. Rouse in the ‘70s as a kid playing in Lester Flatt’s band at a bluegrass festival in Miami. Stuart’s solo performance of the song was one of the real highlights of the night with Stuart showing off his immense mandolin skills, in addition to be a terrific guitar player.
Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives are never going to get out of town without leaving you with some fine gospel music, which they did on Saturday night with great vocal performances of “Just a Little Talk with Jesus” and “Angels Rock Me to Sleep,” which ended the set.
The group would return for a rocking one-song encore of Stuart’s first top 10 hit “Hillbilly Rock,” from 1990, showing off the rockabilly side of the band that proves they were just as much influenced by the ‘50s rock scene of Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley as they were the sounds of Flatt & Scruggs, Johnny Cash, Woody Guthrie and others.
It was truly a fantastic night of music at Toad Duck Daze, which often seems to bring incredibly talented and great acts, especially in the country music genre, to the small-town festival.