Marty Stuart was born and raised in Philadelphia, but when the country music standard-bearer and his accurately named band His Fabulous Superlatives play the second annual Hoagie Nation festival on the Delaware riverfront on Saturday, it won’t be a hometown gig.
That’s because the city that the ace guitar and mandolin player hails from is actually Philadelphia, Mississippi. The entire population of that 7,477-person town located 1,000 miles to the southwest is fewer than the number of fans expected to gather at the Festival Pier, where the Daryl Hall & John Oates-headlined show will be staged.
Stuart and the Superlatives — whose sterling musicians are guitarist Kenny Vaughan, bass player Chris Scruggs, and drummer Harry Stinson — are a hard-traveling quartet. They’ll be back to open for Chris Stapleton at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden on June 29.
Nashville’s best-dressed (and just plain best) band is part of a three-stage Hoagie Nation bill that also includes Pat Monahan-fronted Train and pop quintet Fitz & the Tantrums, plus Philly rockers Tommy Conwell & the Young Rumblers and up-and-comers Beano French, Down North and Mo Lowda & the Humble.
This year, Hoagie Nation will expand to include a Friday night pre-party at the Fillmore, featuring Philly all-star band David Uosikkinen’s In the Pocket and nuevo-soul man Mayer Hawthorne, plus a “chef driven hoagie experience” featuring Marcie Turner from Bud and Marilyn’s and Scott Schroeder from Hungry Pigeon.
The next day at the Pier, free samples will be available for early arrivals from 17 different shops, and H&O-themed hoagies for sale will include the I Can Go For That! rustic Italian.
Stuart would seem to be a musical outlier on the capicola and sharp provolone menu. Isn’t Hoagie Nation a rock-pop-soul endeavor, anchored by the Philly born “Kiss on my List” hitmakers and whomever they’re touring with, in this case Train, the “Hey, Soul Sister” band with whom they have teamed up on new ditty “Philly Forget Me Not”?
It is. But it’s also aiming to broaden its musical scope. Enter Stuart, whose latest album Way Out West was produced by Tom Petty guitarist Mike Campbell and mixes Buck Owens Bakersfield country with surf music, power pop, cowboy songs, and psychedelic Mojave Desert head trips.
Last week, Stuart spoke on the phone while on his tour bus on the way to a gig in Jim Thorpe in Carbon County. “We’re somewhere in Pennsylvania,” the 59-year-old entertainer and music historian said. “It’s very green.”
The range of his taste, he explained, derives from his upbringing.
“I still love Philadelphia,” he says. “It’s a typical small Southern town. What was compelling to me a kid was the radio station. ‘WHOC: A Thousand Watts of Pure Pleasure.’ ”
Stuart’s recitation of the daily schedule is a list of influences that animates his music today. “In the morning it was country music, and at noon an hour of Southern gospel. Then in the afternoon, rock-and-roll and Top 40. Late afternoon was soul. I listened to everything, but it was country music that I really loved.”
Turning Hoagie Nation into a Marty Party makes perfect sense to Oates, who lives in Nashville and has joined Stuart at the Ryman Auditorium, where Stuart will host his annual Late Night Jam during the CMA Festival on June 6 with John Prine, Chris Stapleton, Margo Price, and Stuart’s wife, country singer Connie Smith.
“Both Daryl and I are huge fans of Marty,” Oates said. Stuart has also appeared on Hall’s TV show, Live At Daryl’s House.
“What I really love about the Superlatives, in addition to their great musicianship,” Oates says, “is that Marty carries the torch for a traditional style of country music that has really gone by the wayside. … Marty is all about his roots. That’s what I think is most important and special about him. He waves the flag for an essential part of American traditional music.”
Stuart has a long past to draw from. “I was practicing my autograph in the third grade,” he says. He started his first band when he was 9. A 1967 Neshoba (Miss.) Democrat article headline: ‘Local Boy Says It’s Hard To Make A Living Playing Country Music in a Beatles Society.’
He sounds almost sheepish saying, “I didn’t feel the full weight of bluegrass music until I was 12.”
Two years later, he joined string wizard Lester Flatt’s band Nashville Grass, showing off his mandolin skills and then-as-now abundant head of hair on such syndicated country TV programs as Hee Haw and the Porter Wagoner Show. (Those shows are the inspiration for The Marty Stuart Show, airing in reruns on cable’s RFD-TV.)
As a child, Stuart spent Saturdays watching shows like Wagoner’s and the Wilburn Brothers with his factory worker father. “I loved the costumes those guys wore,” the snappy dresser recalls. “The first time I saw it in person was when Ernest Tubb came to Philadelphia and they stepped out wearing those suits. I just thought it was the most glorious sight I’d ever seen.”
His hometown is widely known for something shameful : Three civil rights workers were murdered there in 1964. “The entire town was judged by the outside world to be bad,” Stuart says. “But in reality, it was a handful of racists and radicals who gave the town its identity.”
“My world was completely different. My mother taught love. There was a place called The Busy Bee Cafe” — the name of Stuart’s 1982 solo album — “where all the black cats hung out and played a little music. That was where I gravitated towards when I was a kid. I loved those guys. The music thumping out of those walls was incredible.”
Stuart plans to open the Marty Stuart Congress of Country Music, built to house his 20,000-piece artifact collection in his hometown. Prize possessions include the dress Patsy Cline was wearing when she died and handwritten lyrics to Hank Williams’ “Cold, Cold Heart.”
Stuart caught some early 1990s commercial country momentum, scoring hits with “Tempted” and “The Whiskey Ain’t Workin,” with Travis Tritt. But he realized radio love wasn’t going to last forever.
“So I took a left turn and went deep and the Superlatives came together,” he recalls. “And we set our standards in an entirely different way. I saw a picture once of Louis Armstrong playing his horn in front of the pyramids in Egypt. He was the jazz ambassador to the world, and I felt like I had the license to do that, taking country music with me wherever I go. It’s my life’s work.”