down the road from renfro: dale ann bradley returns to the kentucky music hall of fame

Dale Ann Bradley.

Dale Ann Bradley recalled the first thing she did upon being informed of her 2018 induction to the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame. She cried. Simple as that. Then she cried some more.

“I think I cried for a couple of days there,” said the five-time International Bluegrass Music Association Female Vocalist of the Year who returns to the Hall of Fame in Mount Vernon for a concert this weekend. “I don’t know if I could even describe what it was like.

“You think about these things growing up in the hollers. You think, ‘Well, someday, I’d like to play the (Grand Ole) Opry. Someday, I’d like to make a little 45 record. You don’t really think it will happen, but you can dream about it. So for things to happen to me, such as being in the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame, I don’t know. I feel blessed because Kentucky artists are special. All of them show what the state has to offer. When you’re describing that in writing or music, it shows the deep sense of faith and endurance that this area has had through the years.”

The Hall of Fame performance will cover where Bradley’s career has been and, more importantly, where it is headed.

The past is referenced by the fact the Hall of Fame is located just down the road from Renfro Valley, the long running performance venue where Bradley, who grew up between Pineville and Harlan (“just off 119”), cut her professional teeth before beginning a six year stay as a member of the New Coon Creek Girls.

“This concert will be a coming home party in a lot of ways because it’s been so many years, other than the induction, since I’ve been a part of anything going on there. There is no price tag to put on the time that I’ve spent at Renfro Valley. Had I not had that place to work on my music and my friendships, I don’t know what I would have done. It definitely is precious to me. I think it’s a precious place in Kentucky. I hope people will take a look at what Renfro Valley has done for country music, folk music, bluegrass music and gospel music.”

But the Hall of Fame show also marks the start of the next chapter in Bradley’s career. It will help launch the promotion of a new album, “The Hard Way,” which is set for release on March 22. Like so many of her solo recordings, “The Hard Way” is highly traditional in its string band sound but diverse in terms of source material.

From one corner comes an update of the 1967 Bobbie Gentry hit “Ode to Billy Joe” that retains the original version’s stark narrative potency in outlining the lingering effects of a rural suicide. Then we have “Pretty Dark Hearted Emma Brown,” a work co-penned by Bradley and her brother that fits securely into the Appalachian corral of dark balladry defined by greats like Ralph Stanley. Finally, there is an update of “Ripple,” a Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter classic from the 1970 Grateful Dead album “American Beauty” that underscores that band’s often neglected folk and bluegrass ancestry.

“Their ties to bluegrass were huge,” Bradley said. “I think the Grateful Dead took it to a big percentage of audiences all over the world. What you got was real in Garcia’s playing and Bob s writing. That song is so deep, so spiritually deep. From the time I was a little kid, when I first heard it, I would cry. Then I got to listening to the lyrics and really saw how they fit into a spiritual life. I’ve designated that song to be played at my funeral. I want it to be kind of my epitaph.”

Bradley emphasizes that no one needs to count on hearing “Ripple” in such a setting anytime soon. With a career that has earned her a pair of Grammy nominations as a solo artist (for 2015’s “Pocket Full of Keys”) and as a band member (for the sophomore album by the all-star female bluegrass collective Sister Sadie), Bradley plans to be an active bluegrass ambassador for years to come. But that role has also reaffirmed a few life lessons along the way.

“I feel like, in this last decade, I have really found the desire to do what I feel like we’re here to do, which is to love and be kind. Maybe walk in somebody else’s shoes just a little bit there and you might be able to help them and certainly not push them down. That’s what’s come full circle for me – knowing that those are the right things.”

Dale Ann Bradley performs at 7 p.m. March 1 at the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum, 2590 Richmond St. in Mount Vernon. Tickets: $20, $30. Call 606-256-1000 or go to eventbrite.com.



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