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Country comes to town at Library of Congress

Kix BrooksKix Brooks performs at the Library of Congress. (Ricky Carioti/the Washington Post)

By Chris Richards

When Nashville's troubadours come to Washington to croon for the powers that be, you occasionally hear nerves fluttering through the drawl. That wasn't the case Tuesday, though, at the Library of Congress's Coolidge Auditorium, where there was confident stage swagger to spare.

Musically, these men and women certainly know how to serve their country.

"You're going to see a one-of-a-kind show because we don't rehearse," songwriter Bob DiPiero said after introducing a wisecracking, all-star band of Kix Brooks, John Rich, Lorrie Morgan, Victoria Shaw and bluegrass royalty Randy Scruggs.

The sextet assembled to perform at "Story Tellers and Story Keepers," a celebration of country music staged by the Library of Congress and the Country Music Association; the concert topped off a day of activities that marked a budding relationship between the two groups.

(Orrin Hatch explains it all, after the jump.)

It's also the latest event in what feels like a growing institutional embrace of country music in Washington. The Kennedy Center held a star-studded country festival in 2006, and the Obama administration has included country in its continuing genre-specific White House Music Series.

Before the show, Sen. Orrin Hatch -- settling into his seat, flanked by his grandchildren -- explained why country music might be growing more prevalent in official Washington: "A lot of country musicians are very open about their politics and how they feel about this country."

Rich agreed. During a pre-concert reception in the Great Hall (a bustling nosh-pit that hosted Kansas Rep. Dennis Moore, Tennessee Rep. Marsha Blackburn and other lawmakers, as well as veteran newscaster Bob Schieffer), Rich sipped Crown Royal and Coke, a boxy diamond-studded ring hanging off the finger of his drink-holding hand. "I truly believe that country music has become America's music," said the singer of beloved duo Big & Rich. "It's wonderful to see D.C. and our lawmakers recognize and respect what we're doing."

That "we" is the Country Music Association, a trade organization established to promote the genre. Best known for its annual CMA Awards -- Nashville's answer to the Grammys -- the association has more than 6,000 members, from musicians to managers to promoters.

While in town for an annual meeting, nearly 50 members visited the Library of Congress for a tour and a presentation.

"Our strategic mission first and foremost -- it's been for 50 years -- is to promote the format, to promote country music," said Steve Moore, chairman of the CMA's board of directors. Visiting the Library of Congress "is a great opportunity to meet the staff and look into collaborations."

After an afternoon presentation for the board, Moore presented Librarian of Congress James H. Billington with DVDs containing footage of more than four decades of CMA Awards programs.

Susan Vita, chief of the library's music division, sees the donation -- and perhaps more in the future -- as an opportunity to increase the library's visibility to the public. "If you sit here with all of these things and never talk about them, the generation that's coming up now won't know anything about it," she said. "That's the key to what we're trying to do here -- to get more of this information out there so more people will use it."

It's an approach adopted in recent years by the library, which also created the Gershwin Prize for Popular Song in 2007, honoring Paul Simon and Stevie Wonder.

When CMA board members toured the library, Brooks (wearing bluejeans, black hat and coffee-colored mustache) took a particular interest. "On my tour bus it's all History Channel and ESPN," he said as the group took in the Waldseemüller 1507 map of the Americas, the Mainz bible and numerous volumes from Thomas Jefferson's library.

Craning his neck to examine the frescoes in the Great Hall, Brooks smiled. "It's nice to see that Europeans don't have all the cool [stuff]," he said.

At the concert, he had plenty of quips onstage, too. "Is that your real hair?" he interjected while DiPiero introduced auburn-haired pianist Victoria Shaw at the top of the show. ("I paid for it," she replied.)

The barb-swapping elicited plenty of laughs; the songs went over even better. Brooks and Rich each delivered spirited, patriotic fare ("Only in America" and "The Good Lord and the Man," respectively) while Scruggs performed "Passin' Thru," a song he introduced as one that he wrote with the legendary Johnny Cash.

When it was over, DiPiero couldn't help but mumble a mock-shot: "Name dropper."

By David Malitz  |  March 10, 2010; 12:00 PM ET
Categories:  News  | Tags: Kix Brooks, Lorrie Morgan  
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Weird - I was looking at the LOC web site Monday or Tuesday for a concert schedule, and all I could find were the classical series in the evening and the Folklife Center series which, if I recall correctly, only had dates that had already occurred. This concert was nowhere to be found.

The LOC really could use a better-organized web site.

Posted by: MyPostID27 | March 11, 2010 9:35 AM | Report abuse

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