OffStage with Ricky and Sharon Skaggs
Have you ever wondered about the offstage world of a professional musician? Every month in this column, bluegrass now will provide a glimpse into the lives of some of your favorite bluegrass stars. (By the way, you can move your cursor over photos to see the captions!)
Sharon White Skaggs and Ricky Skaggs lived in the same small house for almost two decades. “I think we moved in there before Molly was born,” says Ricky. “We were maxed out!”
In December 2000, they moved into their new place, a plantation-style country estate on 15 acres. “It sits on top of a hill, and it's got a beautiful view. It's a big house,” Sharon laughs, a little overwhelmed by the size of the place. “The furniture we had only about half-fills this house. We're still in the process of decorating. We still don't have pictures on the walls. I'm trying to learn all the greatest new methods of dusting and vacuuming!”
With their hectic schedules, it's a wonder they had time to unpack a single box. Ricky estimates that roughly a quarter of his time is spent on the road. He also works hard on production and recording commitments with Kentucky Thunder and other acts. Recently, he took on an exciting new project: he will executive-produce the soundtrack of a new Disney film, “My People”, to be released in 2005. His oldest son Andrew, 22, became a father in December, making Ricky and Sharon proud grandparents. (Ricky's other child from his first marriage, 24-year-old Mandy, studies nursing at a Nashville college.)
Sharon recorded A Lifetime In The Making with her dad Buck and sisters Cheryl and Rosie in 2000, and appeared on last year's acclaimed O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack. Though she doesn't travel much these days, she just finished the wildly successful “Down From The Mountain” tour with several of her O Brother alumni.
While doing all this, she was busy homeschooling Molly, 17, and Lucas, 12. “This is the fourth year now, and I wish I'd started earlier,” Sharon says. “It's been a transforming thing for our entire family.” The decision to homeschool was not easy. She worried about her ability to teach, because her formal education ended when she graduated from high school. She and her family prayed for guidance, and finally decided to make the leap. Encouragement from veteran homeschooling mom Teresa Brewster, wife of Kentucky Thunder rhythm guitarist Paul Brewster, was also helpful. “Teresa told me you have more control over what and when your children study, and over your family routine. Musicians don't live by routine! They're not 9-to-5 people.”
Sharon and Ricky are thrilled to report that there's a lot more music around the house since homeschooling began. Molly and Lucas both take private lessons, and are encouraged to explore on their own. “The other night Rick and I were sitting here, and we could hear something,” Sharon says. “We got quiet and listened. Molly was pling, plingin' away up in her room, learning to play clawhammer banjo!” In a winter violin recital, Luke played a new Celtic-influenced tune, penned by Ricky, called “Crossing The Briny”… with his dad as his delighted accompanist.
The Skaggs family spends a lot of time in the kitchen of their big home, renovated just before moving in. It includes new appliances, a huge island - “Ricky calls it Long Island, because it's about 10 feet long!” Sharon says - and Ricky's favorite kitchen toy, a Showtime rotisserie that he got two years ago and only recently took out of the box.
“We moved to our new house, and I opened the durn thing up, seeing if it was worth a dime,” he reports. “I got a pork roast the other day, did my spices on it, and let it cook. It really came out great! The kids loved it. Like the commercial says, you 'set it and forget it!'”
Though most of their home-cooked meals are traditional Southern cuisine, Ricky enjoys exotic flavors when he's traveling. He names Sitar (in Nashville), Nirvana (in NYC) and the Bombay Brasserie (in London) as a few of his favorite Indian restaurants. Staying fit on the road isn't easy, but he sometimes walks or works out in the hotel gym. “Two and a half hours onstage is quite a workout,” he adds. “People don't realize how much energy you burn! It's quite a challenge to play an instrument that hard for that long.”
In August 2001, Ricky and Sharon celebrated their 20th wedding anniversary. Though Ricky played a concert in Central Park on their big day, they stole some time together with a visit to Cape Cod, a special dinner and a play. These rare occasions are key to the success of their relationship.
“We look at our schedules, and we know what's important to us. I'm still very, very attracted to her. I want to spend time with her. I need that,” Ricky confides. “I'm thanking God for her every day. She's a Proverbs 31 woman.”
Active church members, the Skaggs family always tries to start each day with a morning devotional. Ricky and Sharon also have a little ritual that helps them focus on faith in their marriage.
“We sing a song called 'It Takes Three', written by our friend Barbara Fairchild,” Sharon confesses, laughing sheepishly. “The chorus goes, 'Lord, it takes You, and him, and me… it takes three.' This is gonna sound like the cheesiest answer, but putting God first in our lives, and each other next, is what's made the difference in this relationship.”
In spite of occasional bumps in the road, Ricky says that he and Sharon have had a perfect marriage. “There've been rocky times, but our marriage never was under the gun. I think God allows us to go through testing times, because they help us purify our hearts, and make our commitment stronger to each other. That's what's kept us in love, and in tune with God and with our children.”
From the Kitchen of Ricky and Sharon Skaggs:
3 or 4 boneless chicken breasts
Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces. Season with salt, pepper, and poultry seasoning; brown in cooking oil. Remove chicken from pot. Combine soups with 1 can of water and bring to boil. Add potatoes and onions. Add kernel and creamed corns. Bring to boil and return chicken to pot. Mix cornstarch with 1 cup of water and add to soup, stirring well. Cover and simmer on medium low heat for 45 min.-1 hr., stirring occasionally to prevent sticking.