Homecoming in the Round hosted by Gordon Kennedy feat. Chad Cates, Ben Cooper, Ginny Owens, Chris Rodriguez, and Larry Stewart with Special Guests Matt Wertz & Ricky SkaggsSinger-Songwriter
In celebration of Belmont University’s Homecoming 2013, we invite you to join us for a very special evening of music. The event will feature an array of musical talent drawn from Belmont alumni, Belmont faculty and special guests. The evening will be hosted by Gordon Kennedy, a Nashville based singer-songwriter, guitarist and record producer, most famously known for his Grammy-winning song “Change the World” recorded by Eric Clapton. Other Belmont alumni joining the line-up include: Chad Cates, Ben Cooper, Ginny Owens, Chris Rodriguez, and Larry Stewart. Also performing are Belmont faculty member Drew Ramsey and special guests Matt Wertz and Ricky Skaggs.
Cordell KY | Country
A life full of music is the story of Ricky Skaggs. By age twenty-one, he was already considered a “recognized master” of one of America’s most demanding art forms, but his career took him in other directions, catapulting him to popularity and success in the mainstream of country music. His life’s path has taken him to various musical genres, from where it all began in bluegrass music, to striking out on new musical journeys, while still leaving his musical roots intact.
The year 2012 marks the 53rd year since Ricky struck his first chords on a mandolin, and this 14-time Grammy Award winner continues to do his part to lead the recent roots revival in music. With 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated classics behind him, all from his own Skaggs Family Records label (Bluegrass Rules! in 1998, Ancient Tones in 1999, History of the Future in 2001, Soldier of the Cross, Live at the Charleston Music Hall, and Big Mon: The Songs of Bill Monroe in 2003, Brand New Strings in 2005, Instrumentals in 2007, Salt of the Earth with The Whites in 2008, Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947 in 2009 and Ricky Skaggs Solo: Songs My Dad Loved along with Mosaic in 2010), the diverse and masterful tones made by the gifted Skaggs come from a life dedicated to playing music that is both fed by the soul and felt by the heart.
Ricky was born on July 18, 1954 in Cordell, Kentucky, and received his first mandolin at the age of five after his father, Hobert, heard him harmonizing with his mother from across the house as he played with his toys. Two weeks after teaching him the G, C and D chords, Hobert returned from working out of town shocked to see his young son making chord changes and singing along. He soon earned a reputation among the locals in his community. When the legendary Bill Monroe came to Martha, Kentucky for a performance, the crowd wouldn’t let up until “Little Ricky Skaggs” got up to play. The father of bluegrass called six-year-old Skaggs up and placed his own mandolin around his neck, adjusting the strap to fit his small frame. No one could have imagined what a defining moment that would be in the life of the young prodigy. By age seven, Skaggs had made his Grand Ole Opry debut and performed with bluegrass legends Flatt & Scruggs on their popular syndicated television show, for which he earned his first paycheck for a musical performance.
In 1971, he entered the world of professional music full-time with his friend, the late country singer, Keith Whitley, when the two young musicians were invited to join the band of bluegrass patriarch Ralph Stanley. Ricky soon began to build a reputation for creativity and excitement through live appearances and recordings with acts such as J.D. Crowe & the New South. He performed on the band’s 1975 debut album for Rounder Records, which is widely regarded as one of the most influential bluegrass albums ever made. A stint as a bandleader with Boone Creek followed, bringing the challenges of leadership while giving him further recording and performing experience.
In the late 1970’s, Ricky turned his attention to country music. Though still in his 20’s, the wealth of experience and talent he possessed served him well, first as a member of Emmylou Harris’ Hot Band and later as an individual recording artist on his own. With the release of Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine in 1981, Skaggs reached the top of the country charts and remained there throughout most of the 1980’s, resulting in a total of 12 #1 hits. In 1982, he became a member of the Grand Ole Opry, the youngest to ever be inducted at that time. As his popularity soared, he garnered eight awards from the Country Music Association (CMA), including “Entertainer of the Year” in 1985, four Grammy Awards and dozens of other honors. These achievements also placed him front and center in the neo-traditionalist movement, bringing renewed vitality and prominence to a sound that had been somewhat subdued by the commercialization of the ’Urban Cowboy’ fad. Renowned guitarist and producer, Chet Atkins, even credited Skaggs with “single-handedly” saving country music.
In 1997, after Ricky’s then-current recording contract was coming to an end, he made the decision to establish his own record label – Skaggs Family Records. Since then, Skaggs and his band Kentucky Thunder have released an amazing 12 consecutive Grammy-nominated classics (8 of which went on to earn the revered award) while also opening the label to a variety of other musical artists, all the time keeping emphasis on bluegrass and other forms of roots music. Since then, Ricky and Skaggs Family Records have had the privilege of working with many musical talents, including the Del McCoury Band, Jerry and Tammy Sullivan, Blue Highway, The Whites, Mountain Heart, Melonie Cannon, Ryan Holladay, Keith Sewell, Cherryholmes and Cadillac Sky.
Ricky’s first release for Skaggs Family Records, Bluegrass Rules!, set a new standard for bluegrass, breaking new sales records in the genre, winning Skaggs his sixth Grammy Award and earning the International Bluegrass Music Association’s (IBMA) Album of the Year Award. In 1999, his second all-bluegrass album, Ancient Tones, won a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album – his second consecutive Grammy in that same category. Just one year later, Ricky won his eighth Grammy Award in the Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album category for Soldier of the Cross, his first all-gospel project with his band Kentucky Thunder.
Ricky made further progress with the release of his fourth bluegrass album in 2000, Big Mon: The Songs of Bill Monroe, a project which featured an all-star cast of musicians ranging from Dolly Parton, Patty Loveless and Travis Tritt to Joan Osborne, John Fogerty and Bruce Hornsby, and celebrated the music and the life of Ricky’s mentor, Bill Monroe. Big Mon received much critical acclaim, including a Grammy nomination for Best Country Collaboration with Vocals. The album was re-released by Lyric Street Records in 2002 under a new name, Ricky Skaggs and Friends Sing the Songs of Bill Monroe. His fifth bluegrass album, History of the Future (2001), a timeless collection of both traditional bluegrass standards and newly conceived acoustic gems received rave reviews and industry accolades, including a Grammy nomination for Best Bluegrass Album and an IBMA nomination for Album of the Year, once again placing Skaggs among the leading innovators in the genre.
Skaggs’ first all-live album with Kentucky Thunder, Live at the Charleston Music Hall (2003) led to an IBMA Award for Instrumental Group of the Year – an award Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder has taken home 8 times in the last decade. The decision to record a live album was an obvious one for Skaggs. From a string of high-profile tour dates with the Dixie Chicks in 2000, to his position as host of the unprecedented “All*Star Bluegrass Celebration” which aired nationwide on PBS in 2002, to his participation in the wildly successful 41-city ’Down from the Mountain’ tour – Ricky has become one of bluegrass’ most dynamic and sought-after live performers.
He counts the current configuration of Kentucky Thunder among the best group of musicians he has ever worked with. “This group of guys meets my approval every night,” Ricky says. “Each and every one of the pickers in Kentucky Thunder totally amazes me in every show…and that, to me, outweighs any award we could ever win.” The all-star lineup of Kentucky Thunder includes Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Cody Kilby (lead guitar), Paul Brewster (tenor vocals, rhythm guitar), Eddie Faris (baritone vocals, rhythm guitar) Justin Moses ((banjo, background vocals) and Scott Mulvahill (bass, bass vocals). Live at the Charleston Music Hall was honored in 2004 with a Grammy Award for Best Country Performance by a Duo or Group for the Harley Allen-penned track, “A Simple Life.”
In 2005, Ricky earned his 10th career Grammy (Best Bluegrass Album) for Brand New Strings – a beautiful collection of music featuring four Skaggs originals as well as several tunes by some of his most admired contemporaries, including Harley Allen, Guy Clark and Shawn Camp. In 2006, Skaggs was honored with a Grammy Award – this time in the Best Musical Album for Children category – for his contribution to Songs from the Neighborhood: the Music of Mister Rogers. Greater success followed with the release of Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder Instrumentals, an album of all-original, all-instrumental material in the fall of 2006. Praised by fans and critics alike as a landmark album for Skaggs, Instrumentals debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s bluegrass album chart and earned Ricky his 12th career Grammy Award (Best Bluegrass Album).
Cross pollination has been a mainstay throughout Ricky’s career, from his weekly collaborations with various artists as host of The Nashville Network’s Monday Night Concerts in the 1990’s to his recent pairings with Bruce Hornsby and The Whites. Released in March of 2007, Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby (Sony/Legacy) drew from the deep roots in mountain music – adding piano and Hornsby’s inimitable songwriting to the core bluegrass lineup of mandolin, guitar, bass, fiddle and banjo. A major ’CMT Crossroads’ special coincided with the album’s release.
His next recorded project, released in September of 2007 on Skaggs Family Records, was a literal family affair. After years of blending their voices from the living room to the stage, Ricky Skaggs and The Whites teamed up for their first collaborative gospel album, Salt of the Earth, which resulted in a 13th career Grammy Award for Best Southern, Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album, followed by a Gospel Music Association Dove Award for Bluegrass Recorded Album of the Year and Inspirational Country Music Awards for Musician of the Year as well as Mainstream Country Artist of the Year and Inspirational Bluegrass Artist of the Year (with The Whites).
In 2008, Skaggs paid tribute to the man he has often referred to as his “musical father”, Bill Monroe, and the original lineup of the Bluegrass Boys (Earl Scruggs, Lester Flatt, Chubby Wise and Howard Watts) with the release of Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947, earning a 14th career Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album.
A musical father in his own right, Skaggs continued on the full circle path with the addition of a ReIssue Series of his groundbreaking country music masterworks to the Skaggs Family Records catalog in 2009. Beginning with 1982’s Highways & Heartaches, and followed by 1981’s Waitin’ for the Sun to Shine and 1983’s Don’t Cheat in Our Hometown, the ReIssue Series will include nine albums total and includes bonus retrospectives with each release, which feature Ricky, in his own words, sharing never-before-told stories about the making of each project.
Skaggs’ first-ever solo album, Ricky Skaggs Solo: Songs My Dad Loved (2009), celebrated the man that caused him to fall in love with music – his father, Hobert Skaggs. He elaborates, “If I could’ve gotten my dad into the studio, this is how I would’ve wanted him to sound.” Playing every instrument and singing every note on the album, Ricky brought raw, emotional honesty to the songs. By coming home to the music that meant so much to him as a child, Ricky tapped into a wellspring of passion that is channeled into every tune, as though he willed himself back to his family’s house in Kentucky. Solo was honored in the American roots field with a Grammy nomination for Best Traditional Folk Album in 2010.
Ricky Skaggs’ album, Mosaic (2010), marked a return to a full band sound that mixed elements of Country music with Beatles-esque melody and lyrics that spoke to Skaggs’ faith, “making music that is in my head and in my heart,” as Ricky said. Grammy winning songwriter/producer Gordon Kennedy, who co-wrote Eric Clapton’s “Change the World,” was instrumental as co-producer and writer. This most special album hooks the heart, as the sounds invite you in to take notice and come closer. They have blended their talents and love of music with their love for the Lord to create this distinctive collaboration of writing and talent, unparalleled in strength of genius. The song, “Return to Sender” from Mosaic was nominated for a Grammy for Best Gospel Song, and the album was a contender for Best Pop/Contemporary Gospel Album at the 53rd Grammy Awards, receiving major critical acclaim.
Marking Ricky’s 50th year in music was the release of Country Hits Bluegrass Style (2011), a compilation of many of Skaggs’ #1 country hits and fan favorites played in a bluegrass style. Combining his country and bluegrass roots along with Ricky’s impeccable tenor voice, his eight time IBMA Instrumental Band of the Year, Kentucky Thunder, and some of Ricky’s original award-winning country band alumni together with special friends added to the magic of this release.
Long awaited by country and bluegrass music fans alike, Music To My Ears (2012) is an exciting new offering by Ricky. Fresh, new bluegrass tunes co-written by Skaggs along with a brand new instrumental mark this CD in distinction among all others, while new takes on older bluegrass standards add to its charm. The album features a new duet with Ricky Skaggs and Barry Gibb (of Bee Gees fame) on deeply moving “Soldier’s Son,” along with new bluegrass treasure “You Can’t Hurt Ham,” inspired by a true story of Mr. Bill Monroe.
Ricky Skaggs has often said that he is “just trying to make a living” playing the music he loves. But it’s clear that his passion for it puts him in the position to bring his lively, distinctively American form of music out of isolation and into the ears and hearts of audiences across the country and around the world. Ricky Skaggs is always forging ahead with cross-cultural, genre-bending musical ideas and inspirations.
Nashville TN | Singer-Songwriter
Hi. My name is Matt Wertz, and this is my bio. Usually these aren’t written by the artist, at least at this level- but as I was trying to decide who could tell my story the best, I felt like that person was me. So, I’d like to be the one to tell you where I come from, why I write music, what I’ve seen happen along the way, and where I see things going according to my finite vision.
I’m from Liberty, Missouri, but have called Nashville, Tennessee, home for the last seven years. It seems fitting that I would be writing my own biography on the cusp of my first major label release, just as I did eight years ago before releasing my first independent album. This time, though, I’m not trying to play it off like I didn’t write it.
I grew up in a home where I was encouraged to explore and dive into whatever grabbed my attention. Sports? Sure. Art? You bet. Girls? Yep. Music? Obviously. There was no expectation other than to do my best “and let God do the rest,” as my Mom always says. With that kind of freedom end encouragement, I did just that—I played sports for the fun of them, made art because I loved to create, and eventually, I wrote and performed music… because I had to.
My love for visual art led me eight hours from home to the University of Illinois, where I studied Industrial Design. As a result of that experience, music became my respite—my escape from the responsibility of class work. Dorm life served to provide a small, built–in audience who graciously embraced my first attempts at songwriting. Before I knew it, I was recording versions of those songs on my roommate’s computer and burning copies for my new cohabiting fans. Eventually I started playing concerts outside the walls of Scott Hall and made the leap to register my name as a dot-com. That may not seem like a big deal today, but at the time, those were the early, shaky steps I took toward a full-fledged career in the music industry.
Early on, I was shown many graces—like a loan from my parents to pay for the first 1,000 copies of my debut record, Somedays (2001). To assuage their fear that I was throwing my life away, I democratically assured them that I’d get a job after the summer was over. Needless to say, that never happened.
What did happen was that my summer burst at the seams with bookings at camps for high schoolers… which spilled over into a fall schedule of touring their hometowns… which set up a spring full of shows at colleges… followed by more summer camps. Rinse, wash, repeat—and you have the first few years of my career.
The days between then and now have been a series of “baby steps” that have somehow afforded me success as an independent artist. All these things really kicked into gear after the release of Twenty Three Places (2003), the first record I recorded with producer and friend, Ed Cash. The album featured some of the songs that set the tone for the rest of my career—“Everything’s Right,” “Marianne,” “Red Meets Blue,” and “Counting to 100”— songs that are still staples in my set today.
On the heels of the Twenty Three Places release, people started taking notice. Creative Artists Agency got involved booking my shows. Nettwerk took over my management. And a bunch of record labels started knocking down my door. But none of them felt like a good fit. So what did I do? I did what I’d always done: I recorded another record on my own and kept touring.
Ed and I began working on Everything in Between in February 2005, hitting the studio sporadically whenever I had breaks from the road. “The Way I Feel” was the first song we approached and it provided the compass for the record, ushering in an energy and musical depth that redirected my career to a new level. The tone of the record was my musical response to what I learned playing hundreds of clubs a year—I realized the need for up-tempo, lively songs to get the room going. The album also meant a lot to me personally—it was written and recorded during my first dating relationship since college, and much of the album followed the progress of the relationship. “5:19” was written on July 7, 2005, at 5:19 p.m., while I waited for the phone call that would inevitably be the end of that relationship.
Everything in Between was the first record I released with any kind of organized push behind it. We came out of the gates strong, charting high on the iTunes pop charts and filming a video for the song “Carolina.” Some of the songs landed in unexpected places—on TV’s “Brothers and Sisters” and in theaters via movies like My Super Ex-Girlfriend.
Since the start of my career, I’ve sold around 75,000 albums, played shows with Ben Folds, Jamie Cullum, and One Republic, as well as headlined sold-out clubs around the country. This was all done, mind you, as an independent artist. Over time, momentum built and more labels took notice, including Universal Republic. Finally I encountered a label that felt right, a label that could pull the trigger, a label that understood where I was coming from. And so, I signed.
The record that will be released on Universal Republic is called Under Summer Sun and it is a combination of my favorite songs from my first few independent releases, like “5:19” and “Everything’s Right,” as well as four new songs. Among the new tracks are “Waiting,” an introspective bedroom song that deals with the fear that I’m “growing old but not quite growing up,” and “Summer Sun,” my best effort at a nostalgic summer love song in the vein of Stevie Wonder musically and Don Henley emotionally. And the rest of the songs will strike a chord with anyone who enjoys soulful, carefree, singer-songwriter pop music.
How do I know? Because these songs emanate from the pages of my life, and I’ve seen first-hand the way that people have connected with them from their own experiences. In eight years of touring through hundreds of venues, playing three albums’ worth of songs for thousands of listeners, that connection is what fuels my passion. Ultimately, the thing that you and I have here—between the words and the chords and the lights and the beats—that is the thing that encourages me to keep singing.
Nashville TN | Singer/Songwriter
Gordon Kennedy is a multi Grammy Award-winning songwriter and producer, world-class guitarist and visionary at the forefront of Nashville’s music community.
Kennedy’s name became nationally recognized when he won Song of the Year at the 1997 Grammys for Eric Clapton’s No. 1 hit, “Change the World,” which he co-wrote with Wayne Kirkpatrick and Tommy Sims.
Nashville TN | Pop
After growing up in the magnificent city that is Fort Wayne, IN, I followed my love for songwriting down to Nashville, TN. I got a degree in audio engineering from Belmont University (to allow myself to produce my own demos). - Once graduated, I found myself in need of a job. That's when I discovered a love I never knew I had: being a mascot. I went on the road for four months with Alan Jackson and Brooks & Dunn as AJ's larger-than-life, Muppet lookalike. I also shot t-shirts out of a cannon that looked like a giant acoustic guitar (the shirts came out the end of the neck). If you ever wondered whose sweaty hand you actually shook at the concert, that was mine. - For ten months after that, I wore the green apron and steamed milk for Starbucks. Though I miss the free coffee, I've had incredible opportunities to be surrounded by and working with some amazing and inspiring people. - All throughout those experiences, I had been writing songs. During class, on the long bus rides, on ten minute breaks. All of that has paid off and it is a wonderful privilege to work each day doing what I love.