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Twilight train ride

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L&C Railway treats Skaggs, family to luxury excursion

By The Staff

In a 38-year professional music career, Ricky Skaggs has pretty much seen it all. Now he’s seen just a little more.

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Arm in arm with his daughter, Molly, and his son, Luke, the Skaggs were afforded a special treat Saturday, courtesy of L&C Railway and See Lancaster.

The Skaggs family, and their respective bands, Kentucky Thunder and Songs of Water, enjoyed a L&C luxury train ride excursion to the Catawba River and back before performing at the University of South Carolina at Lancaster on Saturday night.

They were treated to a full gourmet meal of herb-baked chicken, tossed salad, garlic mashed potatoes, country-style green beans, pepperjack corn muffins and pumpkin praline cheesecake prepared by L&C chef John Mickey and his wait staff during the 14-mile, round-trip train ride.

For Mickey, who started perparing the meal about 9 a.m. Friday, it was business as business as usual. But Mikey was please by the round of applause he drew from the Skaggs’ party for the effort to make the day one to remember.

“We’re just glad to be able to this,” Mickey said.

Bob Willetts, who oversees the railway’s luxury car fleet, said L&C employees had been working non-stop for almost two weeks to put the train ride together.

“A musician like Skaggs has extensively traveled the country and the world,” Willetts said. “Our only goal was to give him a positive experience. We put our best foot forward so that he would have something to remember Lancaster by.”

The L&C’s three restored, rolling 5-star hotels, the Henderson, the Golden Towers and Hollywood Beach rail cars were gleaming in the late afternoon sun when See Lancaster Director Peggy Little pulled into the parking lot just before 5 p.m. with Skaggs and his party.

While a group of about 25 local dignitaries were invited along, Skaggs, his family, and their bands road together in the Hollywood Beach.

Willetts said Skaggs isn’t the first celebrity to enjoy a ride in the luxury car, which belongs to Art Cushman of Nashville.

“The Hollywood Beach has been used several times by Merle Haggard,” Willetts said. “It was also used by the late Johnny Cash and entertainer Jackie Gleason.

“Gleason used in it several times to get from New York to Miami,” Willetts said. “He refused to fly and liked the Hollywood Beach so well that he had it written into his television contract.

“Then, to show you just how small of a world it is, Cushman actually lives across the lake from the Skaggs just outside Nashville,” Willetts said. “They are neighbors and know each other.”

Little said the one thing she has learned from leading the performing arts series – first through the USCL Educational Foundation, and now through See Lancaster – is the importance of word of mouth.

“It’s a two-way street and the L&C is a great attraction that many towns just don’t have,” she said. “We’re now getting calls from the surrounding areas from people for tickets, so someone is talking. At the same time, word gets out among performers about how they get treated when they come here.

“We try very hard to be professional in everything we do and if they want green M&Ms in the dressing room, then we try to do that,” Little said. “We’re looking at the big picture.” 

While Skaggs spent most of the train ride with his family, he did venture into the Golden Towers and Henderson cars on the return trip to talk with fans and sign autographs.

Rudy Carter, chairman of Lancaster County Council, said it’s important that performers like Skaggs leave here with a positive experience.

“We want him to enjoy his time here,” Carter said. “That way, years from now, when he thinks about little, old Lancaster, he will have a smile on his face.”

Skaggs did leave the L&C depot with a smile on his face. Skaggs commented that revitalization efforts in the downtown business district are quite noticeable.

“This is a very pretty little town,” Skaggs said.

A night to remember

Skaggs was equally impressed by the enthusiastic sold-out crowd that greeted him when he and Kentucky Thunder took to the Bundy Auditorium stage about 8:15 p.m. Saturday, after Songs of Water opened the show.

With its mixture of traditional bluegrass, Appalachian, American folk, Celtic, Indian, African and Middle Eastern influences, Songs of Water is a melting pot of sounds played on a wide range of instruments from hammered dulcimers to tablas, a Hindu percussion instrument.

Deeper than most, it has a spiritual feel to it. Fiddle in hand, the elder Skaggs, joined Songs of Water on stage for its final number, “Ain’t No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down.”

Skaggs said his son and daughter are committed to passing along their love of old-time music to a younger generation.

“I just love Songs of Water,” he said. “It is a different sound, but there is something about it.”

After a short break, Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder took to the stage. Skaggs told the audience early on to be ready to stay for a while.

“When I quit having fun, I’ll quit playing,” he said.

That didn’t happen until about two hours later. With selections ranging from the Grammy award winning, “A Simple Life,” which was recorded live at the Charleston Music Hall, to “Highway 40 Blues,” Skaggs, and Kentucky Thunder’s Andy Leftwich (fiddle), Cody Kilby (lead guitar), Mark Fair (bass), Paul Brewster (vocals and guitar), Eddie Faris (vocals and guitar) and Jimmy Mills (banjo) kept the bluegrass flowing at a breakneck pace.

From traditional songs lifted from Skagg’s 2008 release, “Honoring the Fathers of Bluegrass: Tribute to 1946 and 1947,” and this year’s “Songs My Dad Loved,” Skaggs showed why he is a master showman and is considered the “Ambassador of Bluegrass.”

“It’s good to be with y’all again,” he said. “We know dollars are hard to get a hold of these days, and when you get ‘em, they’re even harder to hold onto. We appreciate y’all coming out to buy a ticket.”

Tom Bullard, vice president of Audio Ethics, which produces the See Lancaster Performing Arts Series, said Skaggs left the stage “grinning ear to ear” to a standing ovation.

“It was pretty neat,” Bullard said. “He said, ‘Let’s hang around to see if these Lancaster folks have had enough yet.’”

Within minutes, Skaggs returned to perform “Black Eyed Suzie” as a curtain call.

“Based on how everything went, I think he really enjoyed his time here,” Bullard said. “He said he can’t want to get back.”