Marty Stuart maintains relevance with ‘high-octane hillbilly music’

Marty Stuart hasn’t had a major hit on the country charts for more than 20 years. Yet he seemed more relevant than ever Friday at the Folly Theater. As mainstream country artists have become increasingly untethered from the music’s roots, Stuart has stubbornly adhered to his passion for tradition.

About 800 people heard Stuart, 54, perform what he called “high-octane hillbilly” music. He boasted about his unique resume shortly after the one-hour-and-50-minute concert began.

“The only two jobs I’ve had in my life were with Lester Flatts and Johnny Cash,” he said.

Stuart joined the band of bluegrass pioneer Flatts as a 12-year-old instrumental prodigy. After Flatts’ death, Stuart became a member of Cash’s band. His hit-making era began with the 1989 album “Hillbilly Rock” and tapered off a decade later.

Stuart has been backed by the amusingly named Fabulous Superlatives for several years. The epitome of a hotshot Nashville guitar slinger, Kenny Vaughan played dozens of concise but dazzling solos. The contributions of bassist Paul Martin and drummer Harry Stinson were no less valuable.

The band revived a bygone sense of showmanship that included sight gags and a purported encounter with Marty Robbins’ ghost.

Besides the mandatory drinking and cheating songs, the repertoire included material about trains, trucks, jukeboxes and prison. An acoustic gospel segment served as the emotional core of the concert.

Many members of the attentive audience rewarded Stuart’s extended solo showcases on mandolin and acoustic guitar with standing ovations. Burly renditions of hits including “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin’” were also enthusiastically received.

Noting the concurrent One Direction concert at the Sprint Center, Stuart suggested that he and the Fabulous Superlatives were merely “a boy band grown up.” The members of One Direction can do without Stuart’s guidance. His peers in Nashville would do well to study Stuart’s prolonged career.

Two decades after the hits stopped coming, the timeless music performed by Stuart at the Folly Theater was extraordinarily vital and immensely fulfilling.