The burgeoning DVD market for concert films is having a positive effect on programming at niche cablers and now PBS. Concerts are not only afforded greater technical resources, but with production budgets spread out, programming has become more varied. “Three Great Pickers,” a chronicle of a one-time-only show featuring bluegrass legends Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs with Ricky Skaggs, is a substantial case in point. The special comprises 15 classics of bluegrass performed with a casual give and take between the musicians, and it’s the multiple camera angles and superior editing that makes this a breeze to watch.
Part of the “Great Performances” series, concert provides one highlight after another. Scruggs, who fathered bluegrass banjo with Bill Monroe and then popularized the genre with partner Lester Flatt, shines on nearly every tune; his dexterity, even at 82, is astonishing.
Watson, who applied a lightning-quick flat-picking style to mountain story songs nearly a half-century ago, gives a little too much space to grandson Richard, a fine picker, too. When Doc takes over, he brings a depth common to old blues players; it has often been said Watson has never given a bad performance, and “Three Pickers” backs up that claim. Skaggs, as is his wont, defers to the elders and yet holds his own on mandolin and singing. The fiddle of Alison Krauss livens up the act toward the end of the concert.
A couple of years ago, Scruggs turned 80 and did an album of duets with noted pop performers, but it never caught fire at retail. Watson announced he was calling it quits a decade and a half ago, and fortunately for auds, he has not kept his word. Skaggs, meanwhile, has scooped up one award after another since his return to bluegrass after a few hit-filled years in the country field. With evidence of their compatibility caught on tape, perhaps there will be a call for more “Three Pickers” concerts.
Rounder released the DVD, which includes an added docu, and a CD of the show on July 15.