Live Report: Alison Krauss and the Union Station

Wolf Trap, Vienna, Va., Aug. 21, 1998

"So do you guys dig this or what?" Alison Krauss laughed, turning to gawk at the elaborate facade of a Spanish hacienda acting as a backdrop for tonight's show. "I feel like I'm in Evita or something."

The gaudy set design -- looking eerily like the Hotel California -- was leftover from an opera the venue had hosted the evening prior. But the bluegrass star and her easy-goin' backup band thought it'd be a kick to perform in front of the stuccoed monolith and informed Wolf Trap officials to leave things be. After all, the twenty-six-year-old Krauss could let loose her Tiffany twang amidst a pack of rabid dingoes and all eyes would be still be glued to the petite wunderkind from Champaign, Illinois.

With a warm, chatty spirit, Krauss and the Union Station boys, four middle-age men with gobs of talent but absolutely zippo stage presence, split the two-hour show into pleasant parts laid-back and REM-sleep inducing. And although the musicians never broke down into one of their trademark pickin' parties, AKUS still managed to keep the sold-out crowd riveted with their pop-flavored stew of modern bluegrass and Dixie-fied gospel.

Five years ago, Krauss, barely past the legal drinking age, was inducted into the Grand Ole Opry Hall of Fame. That honor, however, was bestowed upon her as much for her fiddle-playing as for her high, lonesome voice. Displaying both of these talents early and often, Krauss led her band through a healthy portion of songs from her latest album, So Long So Wrong. With Ron Block's squirrelly banjo and special guest Jerry Douglas' demonstrative dobro laying the foundation, Krauss unveiled flawless readings of "Deeper Than Crying," "Find My Way Back to My Heart," "There Is a Reason" and the new album's title tune.

But just when you think Krauss -- who is, in fact, a true-blue AC/DC fan -- is most comfortable paying homage to her bluegrass elders, she goes and does something like cover the Foundations' "Baby, Now That I've Found You." Slowing the Sixties' pop staple down to a poignant love letter, Krauss, cooing and fiddling in dollops of sheer sweetness, sits atop the song and breaks hearts in bunches. This was the rare, thoroughly drool-inducing concert moment when you forgot where you were, and your brain and eyes locked down in a somnambulant holding pattern.

Krauss was never able to repeat that mystical moment -- hell, few artists could -- yet the rest of the show was nevertheless wonderful: Krauss politely took a few steps away from her mic and wailed away on the bluesy strut of"Oh, Atlanta," then cuddled close for a cover of Douglas' "I Don't Believe You've Met My Baby." To close, AKUS offered up "When You Say Nothing At All," the band's biggest hit to date. And then a pack of dingoes might havechased the band off the stage, but I'm not sure: I was just listening to Krauss say goodnight.