IndyFringe: A Life of Sorrow — The Life and Times of Carter Stanley

This show is part of the 15th Annual Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival, a/k/a IndyFringe, Aug. 15-25, 2019 on Mass Ave downtown. Info, etc., at

By John Lyle Belden

In 1966, a man looks back on his life and career playing “hillbilly music.” He is Carter Stanley of the legendary Stanley Brothers, who, along with performers such as Bill Monroe, brought Bluegrass out of Appalachia and into our radios and concert halls.

Historian and fellow Virginian Gary Reid presents this one-man show he has developed over the last 10 years. He strums the guitar and sings some “high lonesome” verses, but this is storytelling, not a concert. Still, what stories he has to tell! We hear of Carter and Ralph Stanley’s upbringing, the father who left — twice — and the bizarre way they got their home up on Smith Ridge in the Clinch Mountains. Then, after Carter’s service in World War II, comes the music career, starting with a home-town radio show. He goes from getting into trouble for copying one of Monroe’s songs to eventually playing in his band. Along the way, we hear about characters like Suicide Jones, Fiddlin’ Powers and Pee Wee Lambert.

“I have an independent streak about me!” he declares, but notes “the music was always first.” While he didn’t stray far from the Gospel, he would still enjoy a jar of Dewey’s Finest moonshine on occasion.

Reid’s gentle manner draws you in and keeps you. Like the music, this isn’t anything loud or fancy, but it comes out just right. For anyone with an interest in the roots of “roots” music, “A Life of Sorrow” is highly recommended. When anyone asks me what I liked in the Fringe this year, this show comes first to mind.

Last performances are Friday and Saturday, Aug. 23-24, at the Firefighter’s Hall, 748 Massachusetts Ave. Reid can also be seen around the festival area, playing guitar or selling CDs of classic Bluegrass. Tell him howdy for us.


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