While cobbled together from mostly previously released material, Classic Bluegrass Live nonetheless neatly captures banjoist Earl Scruggs on his arc through the folk revival of the 1960s. The disc is culled from three performances at the renowned Newport Folk Festival -- one with Hylo Brown in 1959 and two with longtime partner Lester Flatt in 1960 and 1966, respectively. The performances from 1959 and 1960 are rightly legendary. For many of the young revivalists, it was their first chance to see Scruggs' blitzkrieg three-finger banjo style live. The audience was predictably blown away. The music, of course, lives mightily up to its history. The recordings are crystal clear, and Scruggs (and Flatt) pick away with fury, rightfully earning their places in bluegrass and folk music history. The band still kicks during its set from the 1966 festival, though not as much. There's something missing in their manic reading of the classic "Orange Blossom Special." It's still a riveting piece, almost formal in its beauty. Whatever had made it contemporary is gone, though. By then, the folk revival was effectively over: Bob Dylan had electrified the summer before, and nothing would be the same again. Flatt & Scruggs close their set with "Ballad of Jed Clampett (Theme From The Beverly Hillbillies)," their theme music for the popular television show. Within a year, "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" would be used on the soundtrack to Bonnie and Clyde. And, soon after that, bluegrass would fade into a novelty for the bulk of the record-buying public, at least until the revival spurred by the soundtrack to O Brother, Where Art Thou? in the early 21st century.
AllMusic Review by Jesse Jarnow