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Bluegrass Today: Heart Wide Open - Kristi Stanley

Heart Wide Open – Kristi Stanley 

Posted on June 27, 2018 By Lee Zimmerman

It’s not often that a stomach virus can help inspire a song. In Kristi Stanley’s case, it was a bug that forced her to take to her bed while offering the opportunity to meditate on her mother’s memory. She drifted off to sleep and it was then that she says a melody suddenly came to her and woke her from her slumber. She jotted down the notes and all at once the feelings she had hoped to express came with a clarity she hadn’t experienced before. 

Presumably, that’s what led her to record her stellar debut, the aptly named Heart Wide Open. She had garnered plenty of experience beforehand; born and raised in Kentucky, the sound of bluegrass was always near. She grew up admiring Dolly Parton, and after she made her professional debut on a live radio show called Home Spun Country at the age of 15, she formed her first band with the show’s deejay. Calling the group Sandy River, the two soon found themselves opening for the likes of Kenny Chesney, Billy Ray Cyrus and other stars of the country circuit. Steadily gigging throughout her high school years, she got her big break when the late Dr. Ralph Stanley tapped her to perform on his album Clinch Mountain Sweethearts, where she sang alongside Dolly Parton, Pam Tillis, Sara Evans and Chely Wright. At age 18, she was well on her way. 

Dr. Stanley gave her another gift as well. She married his son Ralph Stanley II a little over two years ago. 

Still, inspiration aside, it wouldn’t do Stanley justice to attribute the success of Heart Wide Open to her family ties alone. Aided and abetted by a solid cast of support players, she creates a sound as solid and seasoned as that of any longtime veteran. She exudes a clarity and confidence that provides songs such Miner’s Wife, It’s Raining the Blues andRaven Tresses with an assertive sound that rings with drive and determination. Likewise, the wistful ramble of My Heart, the blissful balladry of You’ll Have to Talk to My Heartand the breezy lilt of Never Say Never shows her ability to express emotion in ways that are both palatable and sincere. Although she writes only two of the dozen songs in the set — the exuberant opener, Running Blind, and the comforting closer, My Best Friend — she connects in a way that belies that fact she can’t claim each as her own. 

Stanley has made her mom proud, and, we would expect, the rest of her clan as well. Heart Wide Open will likely open quite a few doors for when it comes to her ongoing efforts.

Hills of Home Festival keeps Stanley Brothers legacy, family tradition alive  

Excerpt from Bristol Herald Courier


May 19, 2018 Updated May 20, 2018 

On stage with three generations of Stanleys: Ralph Stanley, II, 39, Jimmie Stanley, 78, and Ralph Stanley III, 12. 

TOM NETHERLAND | Special to the Herald Courier 

"When I sing," said Ralph Stanley II, standing at his father’s grave, "I feel it." 

COEBURN, Va. — “This is where Ralph and Carter played when they were little boys,” Jimmie Stanley said. 

Ralph Stanley’s widow stood on an expanse of land high atop Smith Ridge whereupon will stage Dr. Ralph Stanley’s 48th Annual Hills of Home Festival. 

As the wind gently wove through her hair, she cast her eyes all about as if taking in the scene for the first time. 

“They grew up here,” Stanley, 78, who married the late bluegrass legend in 1968, said. “It’s a special place.” 

Hills of Home, long one of bluegrass’ marquee festivals, resumes its history on May 24 and runs through May 26. Ralph Stanley II and the Clinch Mountain Boys play each day and night. His wife, Kristi Stanley, and her Running Blind band appear Thursday. 

“It’s so exciting,” said Kristi Stanley, 36. “There’s a lot of history here.” 

Joe Mullins & The Radio Ramblers headline Thursday night. Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out lead Friday while Larry Sparks & The Lonesome Ramblers helm Saturday’s lineup. 

“I’m trying to keep it in the tradition,” said Stanley II. “The way dad did.” 

Two years after Stanley’s death, and three since he last sang at the event, his son runs the festival. He’s done so since 2012’s installment. 

“Dad gave me a call after the 41st annual festival,” Stanley II, 39, said while seated under a pavilion that, come Thursday, will house the bulk of the festival’s attendees. “He said, ‘Two, come over to the house. There’s something I want to talk to you about.’” 

Already past the age of 80, the elder Stanley made his wishes known. He wanted to slow down. He offered the reins of the festival to his son. 

“He said, ‘If you don’t do it, I’m shutting it down,’” Stanley II said. “I said, ‘Being that’s the case, I’ll do it.’ I was nervous when I walked out of his house.” 

Improvements afoot, longtime patrons of the festival will take notice. New coats of blue and white paint adorn the stage and the site’s numerous structures. 

“This will be my seventh year,” Stanley II, who inherited his father’s Clinch Mountain Boys band, said. “It’s rewarding to see people come in here, singing Ralph Stanley songs. When I get on stage, it’s full.” 

Stanley II sings bluegrass. Vocally, he’s far closer in tone and style to that of his late uncle Carter’s than to his father’s voice of the Appalachians. 

“When I sing, I feel it,” Stanley II said. “I try to sing from the heart. I try to stay true to dad and Carter’s music, but I’ve got to be myself.” 

Larry Sparks headlines. A longtime devotee of the Stanley Brothers, in addition to his status as a bona fide bluegrass legend, Sparks maintains a rare distinction. 

“He’s been to every single one of these festivals,” Stanley II said. “This will be his 48th.” 

Sparks’ history with the Stanley Brothers began before the festival’s inception. He played in their Clinch Mountain Boys band as a teenager. 

“I worked part-time with them for a while, fall of ‘64. We did some dates in Ohio, Michigan, Virginia,” said Sparks, 70. “That first show was in Hamilton, Ohio. I’ll never forget it. Carter told me to kick off ‘Rank Stranger.’ I kicked off too fast. He said, ‘oh, boy, you kicked that off too fast.’” 

Carter Stanley died in 1966. After a short hiatus, Ralph continued. Sparks joined the Clinch Mountain Boys as the band’s guitarist and voice in place of Carter’s. 

“Boy,” Sparks said, “Carter sure had soul and heart.” 

A large black and white photograph of Carter and Ralph Stanley, affixed to the top end of the pavilion, now faces all who stride on stage at the festival. Performers can’t miss it or the brothers’ monumental presence. 

“Maybe it’ll inspire them when they perform on stage,” Stanley II said. 

Take the drive to Hills of Home. Located on Smith Ridge along Carter Stanley Highway, which veers off Doctor Ralph Stanley Highway, the site bears a Coeburn address. However, it’s miles and seemingly endless curves up, up and away from the town. 

Perhaps they should call it Heaven. Fog often intermingles with emerald green grass and wafting tree tops along the rolling mountaintop. 

Carter in 1925 and Ralph Stanley in 1927 were born about three miles down the mountain on Big Spraddle Creek to mother Lucy and father Lee Stanley. Born a Smith, Lucy grew up on Smith Ridge, which was where she moved her boys in 1932. 

“They romped all over these hills,” Jimmie Stanley said. “I think of Ralph and Carter romping around here. This is their old home place.” 

She stood in the family’s cemetery, a few steps from the brothers’ final resting place. 

“Years ago before dad died, Bob Dylan flew in and visited Carter’s grave,” Stanley II said. “You can visit dad and Carter’s graves. We’ll have Stanley Brothers music playing in the cemetery during the festival.” 

Two years ago and down the hill, Stanley’s casket rested on stage during his funeral. Now he’s interred where he frolicked as a child and learned to play clawhammer banjo from his mother. 

Two years dead though far from gone, all who knew him say Ralph Stanley made it home. 

“I miss him,” Jimmie Stanley said. “I feel lost without him.” 

Whereas the festival began as a way to memorialize Carter Stanley, it’s morphed into a legacy event. It honors Ralph Stanley, voice of Southwest Virginia’s Appalachian Mountains. 

“It’s special,” Stanley II said. 

If the mountains that bore him could sing, they’d sound like Ralph Stanley. It’s to that monumental force of life and now in death that the festival stands upon, thrives from and carries with onward into the future. 

“This is one of the most beautiful places you’ll ever see in your life,” Stanley II said. “It’s like you can reach up and touch the sky. You’re almost to heaven.” 

Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at

Kristi Stanley Releases Debut Album 'Heart Wide Open' (Broadway World)

Broadway World, Music News Desk May. 19, 2018   

Kristi Stanley is part of a world-famous family long associated with traditional bluegrass music, but her debut album, "Heart Wide Open" (Union House Records), has an unmistakable country flavor. That should come as no surprise, considering the artist's upbringing in Pikeville, Kentucky, an area rich in both musical genres, and just a few miles from Clinch Mountain, Virginia, where the Stanley Brothers and her future husband, Ralph Stanley II, resided. 

"Heart Wide Open" is comprised of 12 tracks, sweetly sung by Stanley, backed by her band, Running Blind. The musicians are first-rate: Austin Brown on acoustic bass, rhythm and lead guitar; Nick Goad on mandolin; Rod Smith on banjo and resonator guitar; Adam Haynes on fiddle; Travis Houck on resonator guitar; Jeff Brown on rhythm guitar; and Mike Bentley on rhythm guitar. Guest vocalists on the album include Grammy-winner Marty Raybon (Shenandoah), Wayne Taylor (Blue Highway), Rod Smith (Kevin Prater Band) and IBMA Award-nominee Alecia Nugent. 

"I really enjoyed being a part of this project with Kristi," Nugent said. "What a great singer, and a great choice of songs too. Always an honor to be a part of something so good." 

Born Kristi Ison, she spent hours as a young girl singing along to Dolly Parton records and dreaming of following in her idol's footsteps. At age 15, she performed on a radio show called "Home Spun Country," where the host, musician Tim Michaels, was so impressed that he formed a band with her, called Sandy River, later opening for several national acts including Kenny Chesney, Billy Ray Cyrus and Ricochet. 

It was during a vacation with her family to Nashville that Kristi met Ralph Stanley II, while he was performing with his father, the late Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys. Two years later, Kristi married the younger Stanley and put her musical career on hold to raise the couple's two children, Taylor and Ralph Stanley III. 

Now that the children have grown older, Kristi felt the time had come to begin performing again. She formed Running Blind, and for the past year has been attracting attention in the industry. 

"In the music business, as in life, you never know what may happen, but as long as I can continue doing what I love, I will be happy," she said. "Hopefully, I will be given the opportunity to show that it is possible to love and take care of your family as a first priority, and pursue a career in the music with integrity, dignity and class at the same time." 

Kristi Stanley will celebrate the release of her album "Heart Wide Open" at The Pickin' Porch Show at the Mountain Music Museum, 316 Broad Street, Kingsport, Tennessee, on Saturday, June 2, at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $10 and are available at 

The music of Kristi Stanley and Running Blind is available on iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon. Radio distribution is through AirPlay Direct. More information is available at

New Release from Union House Records 

Debut Album from Kristi Stanley, “Heart Wide Open” 

The long-awaited album release from Kristi Stanley is available from Union House Records!  You can purchase the CD on, iTunes, CD Baby and Amazon.  The official release date is set for May 11, 2018. 

Kristi Stanley grew up in Pikeville Kentucky and is the wife of Ralph Stanley II.  As a young girl, she recalls spending hours singing along with the legendary Dolly Parton and dreaming of becoming a big star.  She recorded her own renditions of Dolly’s songs, singing them over and over again until every note was perfect.  She met Ralph II while she and her family were vacationing in Nashville sitting in on a taping of Prime Time Country.  Ralph II was performing with his father, The Late Legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys.  Two years later, the couple was married and has two beautiful children Taylor and Ralph Stanley III.   As the children have grown older, she felt it was time to start performing again which is what she has been doing for the past year with her band, Running Blind and turning many heads in the industry. 

“In the music business, as in life, you never know what may happen, but as long as I can continue doing what I love, I will be happy.  Hopefully, I will be given the opportunity to showcase, as many others before me that it is possible to love and take care of your family as a first priority, and pursue a career in the music with integrity, dignity and class at the same time.” ~ Kristi 

Kristi is joined by an array of talent on this project. Vocally; she is joined by Marty Raybon, Wayne Taylor, Alecia Nugent and Rod Smith.  Musicians include: Austin Brown on acoustic bass, rhythm and lead guitar; Nick Goad – Mandolin;  Rod Smith – banjo and resonator guitar;  Adam Haynes – fiddle; Travis Houck – resonator guitar; Jeff Brown – rhythm guitar; Mike Bentley – rhythm guitar. 

“After being in this business for a quarter of a century I am always honored to be asked to be a part of anyone's recording, especially one as good as this. Kristi is a truly gifted singer and her choice of material for this record is amazing. Thank you for allowing me to be a part of it." - Wayne Taylor 

"I really enjoyed being a part of this project with Kristi...what a great singer...and a great choice of songs too. Always an honor to be a part of something so good." - Alecia Nugent 

Union House Records, Co-Owner Jeff Brown states “I want to say I’ve enjoyed working with Kristi on her brand new debut album! I believe listeners will enjoy the diversity in this project. You’ll hear a lot of original material but we’ve added a couple standards of course from the Stanley archives. So from Union House Records and myself, Jeff Brown, buckle up, sit back and enjoy as we bring to you Kristi Stanley!” 

Available to Radio DJ's on Airplay Direct. Download Today!

Order Your Autographed Copy of Kristi Stanley's debut release "Heart Wide Open" Today!

Dan Carty benefit in Bristol this weekend 

Excerpt from Bluegrass Today  Posted on April 6, 2018 By John Curtis Goad 

The bluegrass community is coming together once again to help one of its own. Last fall, Dan Carty, a regionally-performing bluegrass musician who hails from the Bristol, TN/VA area, was diagnosed with malignant squamous cell cancer in his head and neck. Several surgeries, biopsies, scans, and daily treatments several hours from home in Knoxville, TN have left him with significant medical bills. To raise funds to support him throughout his treatments, a group of friends, organized by Vickie Austin, have planned a benefit concert this Saturday, April 7 at 6:00 p.m. 

The concert, which will be held at Cold Spring Church in Bristol, TN, will feature a number of bands with roots in the east Tennessee/southwest Virginia area, including Linda Lay & Springfield Exit, Jeff Brown, Duty Free, Troublesome Hollow, Kristi Stanley & Running Blind, and a special appearance by Ralph Stanley II. Popular broadcaster Tim White will emcee the event. 

A local mandolin builder is also raffling off a handcrafted F-style mandolin to support Carty, which will include a case and 10 sets of strings donated by Doyle Lawson. Tickets for the raffle are $5 and can be purchased by calling (423) 408-9222. 

For more information on the benefit, call the church at (423) 878-2446 or event organizer Ashley Davis at (423) 276-9309. Carty’s friends have also set up a GoFundMe page to help with Carty’s medical expenses. 

Donations are accepted at any time at

Kristi Stanley and her bluegrass band appear at Down Home 

Excerpt from Bristol Herald Courier   BY TOM NETHERLAND SPECIAL TO THE HERALD COURIER  Mar 30, 2018

Dolly Parton crawled into the ear of a young Kristi Stanley. 

Out came her will to sing. 

En route to a dream, Stanley leads her contemporary-edged bluegrass band Running Blind to Johnson City’s Down Home on Friday, March 30. New songs swathed in a new sound grace this singer with an old and hallowed name. 

“Starting out – and I’m just starting out with this, it’s tough being a woman in bluegrass,” said Stanley by phone from her home near Coeburn. “Plus, the Stanley’s have a big name.” 

She’s married to Ralph Stanley II, the late bluegrass legend’s son. Her husband’s uncle, the late Carter Stanley, ranks among the greatest lead singers in bluegrass history. Nah, no pressure. 

“They’re big shoes to fill,” Stanley said. 

First came Dolly. 

“Some of my fondest memories came when I was 7, 8, 9 years old,” Stanley, 36, said. “Had an old guitar. Put a cassette on. I’d go into my bedroom and pretend to be Dolly Parton. I thought I was Dolly Parton, and I’d sing along with her.” 

Hints of Parton’s shimmering Appalachian soprano chime within Stanley’s crystalline Kentuckian twang. Evidence ripples gently in her new single, “Never Say Never.” 

“I hear a pure voice,” said Ashley Davis, 29, Stanley’s fiddler. “Even when she’s talking, you can tell she’s genuine and pure.” 

Then came Ralph Stanley II. On a family trip as a teenager, Kristi happened to attend a taping of now-defunct primetime cable music show, “Prime Time Country.” 

“Dr. Ralph was on the show that night, and Ralph II was in the band,” Stanley said. “I noticed how he (Ralph II) kept looking into the audience. After the show, we went backstage and my uncle introduced us.” 

They married in 2000. 

“Two kids later,” she said, “here we are.” 

While her husband toured solo and as a member of his father’s Clinch Mountain Boys band, Stanley shelved her dream to sing. She tended home and their kids. 

“I thought, ‘gosh, I’ll never get to sing again,” Stanley said. “But if you’re a singer, you can’t just leave your music. As the kids got older, I thought, ‘why not?’” 

So less than a year ago, she formed Running Blind. Her group includes Appalachian Trail members Vickie and Tommy Austin as well as Ashley Davis. Together, they recorded an album, which will debut later this year. 

“I heard it before it was mixed and mastered,” Davis said. “It’s awesome.” 

Stanley said she may perform about half of the album at the Down Home. Approach-wise, she’s not as traditional as her husband or late father in law. 

“When people hear it they say my music sounds totally different,” she said. “It’s bluegrass-style yet with a country flavor.” 

It fits. Before marriage, Stanley fielded a country band back home in East Kentucky. 

“Country music today isn’t what it was,” she said, “and people are starving for the real thing.” 

Meanwhile Stanley’s country-inflected first single, “Never Say Never,” strikes an apropos chord. Part rallying cry and part triumphant declaration, the song underscores Stanley’s will and want to stand on her own as a singer. 

“To me, it speaks volumes,” Stanley said. “Never say never.” 

Tom Netherland is a freelance writer. He may be reached at 

If You Go 

Who: Kristi Stanley & Running Blind 

When: Friday, March 30 at 8 p.m. 

Where: Down Home, 300 W. Main St., Johnson City 

Admission: $15 

Info: 423-929-9822 

Web, audio and video:

Never Say Never from Kristi Stanley  

Excerpt from Bluegrass Today:  Posted on March 20, 2018 By John Lawless 

The long-awaited Kristi Stanley album is almost here. She has been teasing us about her bluegrass debut project for quite some time, and while the full record isn’t here yet, at least we get to hear the first single,Never Say Never. 

It’s a new song from Candace Randolph about not closing your eyes to new possibilities. Kristi was joined in the studio by Alecia Nugent and Wayne Taylor with harmony vocals. The track carries a comfortable acoustic country feel, like much of the material in her live show. 

Stanley made her start singing country music as a girl, but has made the switch to bluegrass in tandem with her marriage to Ralph Stanley II. Now that their children are older, it’s Kristi’s time to shine, and that’s what this new recording is about. 

Look for the new album, Heart Wide Open, on Union House Records next month. 

Label co-owner Jeff Brown says that this new music has been worth the wait. 

“I want to say I’ve enjoyed working with Kristi on her brand new debut album! I believe listeners will enjoy the diversity in this project. You’ll hear a lot of original material but we’ve added a couple standards of course from the Stanley archives. A release date is set for April 2018. You can purchase the single from and all the digital outlets. So from Union House Records and myself, Jeff Brown, buckle up, sit back and enjoy as we bring to you Kristi Stanley!” 

Radio programmers can download Never Say Never now from AirPlay Direct.

Bluegrass Today: Kristi Stanley & Running Blind to Still Blue Entertainment 

Posted on February 12, 2018 By John Lawless

Kristi Stanley & Running Blind have announced their signing with Still Blue Entertainment for both publicity services and booking representation. 

Kristi, married to Ralph Stanley II, has been singing country and bluegrass music since she was in her teens. She sang with Dr. Ralph Stanley on his Clinch Mountain Sweethearts album when she was 18, but didn’t meet Ralph II until later when he was performing with his dad in Nashville. II saw her in the audience at a show in Nashville, and they met later at an after party. Two years later they were married. 

Now out fronting her own bluegrass group, Stanley says that she believes in what the ladies at Still Blue can do for her. 

“I’ve had the opportunity in the last year or so (by way of music) of coming in contact with some amazing people. Some of those people have become friends and some have become business partners. I’d like to welcome Ashley Davis and Sherry Brown. Not only is Ashley an amazing fiddler for our band, she is a marketing genius. Sherry wears many hats as well and juggles them all beautifully. I’m so excited to be working with this great team. They will be working hard to bring our brand of music to a venue near you.” 

Brown formed the agency a few years ago primarily to represent her husband, Jeff Brown, and his group, Still Lonesome. She says that now felt like the time to expand with Kristi. 

“Consideration has been given many times to growing the agency, but I felt that it had to be the right situation and benefit everyone involved.  We had a very close relationship many years with the late legendary Dr. Ralph Stanley and his family. Therefore, we are very excited to be representing upcoming artist Kristi Stanley & Running Blind. This couldn’t happen at a better time with the band turning heads already, and just in time for their upcoming release on Union House Records that should hit the market this Spring. “ 

Running Blind consists of Randy Blevins on guitar, Vickie Austin on bass, Tommy Austin on mandolin, Ashley Davis on fiddle, Travis Houck on reso-guitar, and Chad Love on banjo.


On the brink of releasing her debut album with Union House Records, Kristi Stanley is proud to introduce the new band, RUNNING BLIND, that will be backing her on tour. Compiled from years of experience, high skill levels, and polished stage presence, there is no doubt that this group will do a fine job supporting Kristi’s powerful vocals.

Guitarist, as well as Kristi’s band-leader, Randy Blevins of Kingsport, TN is a self- taught musician, coming from a musical family learning to play bass and guitar at an early age, he performed with his family in church and with several local bands. Randy is no stranger to the bluegrass circle, he has received awards in NC, VA, and TN, individually as a guitarist and in band competitions.



We are proud to announce that Kristi Stanley has been signed to Union House Records as their newest bluegrass recording artist. 

“I’m very excited to be a part of Union House Records and all of the people involved with my project have been extremely helpful, knowledgeable, and open minded to my production ideas and arrangements. The recording process has been an inspiration to me and offered a lot of insight to my own artistry, as well as growing my anticipation about the future and promoting these tracks on the road. I am really looking forward to a great relationship with this label and to releasing the album and getting out on tour.” 
-Kristi Stanley