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 email@example.com.
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
Web, audio and video: www.krististanley.com