Bluegrass legend Ricky Skaggs to perform at St. Matthew's on Jan. 12

Connecticut may not be the greatest bastion of bluegrass music, but on Sunday, Jan. 12, banjo picking and foot stompin’ fiddling will fill the halls of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church when Ricky Skaggs makes his way to town alongside his band, Kentucky Thunder.

That afternoon at 4, Mr. Skaggs and his band will perform a concert as part of the Arts at St. Matthew’s series.

Mr. Skaggs, a mandolin virtuoso who has been playing since he was 5 years old, has been a mainstay of American roots music for decades. In fact, he first performed for a television audience some 53 years ago.

Speaking about his recently released autobiography, Kentucky Traveler, Mr. Skaggs said on Friday he still remembered the day his father gave him a mandolin.

“I’m 5 years old lying in bed and my dad comes in and puts a mandolin in my bed,” he said. “When I was a kid, me and books didn’t get along too well, because I was too infatuated with music to have time for studying and reading.”

Though his instrument may not be the most popular for young kids to pick up and play, he said he never worried or wondered whether it was the “cool” instrument to play.

“I always thought it was cool,” he said. “After I learned mandolin, I got to wanting to play my dad’s guitar. … I would sit in front of a mirror and watch where I put my fingers. A little later on I started playing electric guitar because it was loud and because the Beatles had come out and they were pretty cool. But I never, ever lost a sense of what my heart was really satisfied with doing.”

Though he sometimes strayed from the mandolin, his early years were marked by a clear dedication to old-time music, as he refers to it. Whenever he felt himself slipping too far away from his roots, he said, he would come back to his “foundation.”

“Old-time music, bluegrass music, and mountain music were so deep in my core that I knew this was something I was supposed to be playing. I always went back to the foundations, to the old music, because there was a satisfaction that I found there,” he said.

That satisfaction, Mr. Skaggs said, is drawn from the essence of bluegrass music itself. Mountain music, according to the artist, is fundamentally joyful while not ignorant to the darker side of human experience.

“Bluegrass has an element of fun and joy, and all these other cool things to it that make great music,” Mr. Skaggs said. “Its tempo makes you want to pat your foot. It gives feelings of joy, and feelings of happiness, but one of these old, sad mountain songs where the father ran off, all these wild songs that will bring a tear to your eye.”

As contemporary bands like the Punch Brothers and Old Crow Medicine Show grow in popularity, Mr. Skaggs said, it’s nice to see young people getting involved in bluegrass music. He believes its traditional nature provides a good reference point as people are exposed to popular music on the radio every day.

“Young people love having it on their iPhone,” he said. “They love the fact that they may have some new stuff on there, but they’re still able to throw in some great old music as well.”

Though some bands have reached success playing a variety or derivative of bluegrass, Mr. Skaggs said one of the most popular pieces of art related to the genre in recent years was actually a film: O Brother Where Art Thou?

“That’s one of the things that caused O Brother to be so popular in the public. It harkened back to earlier music even than bluegrass, which didn’t get started until 1945. The soundtrack was really, really popular for everyone from 8 years old to 70 or 80 years old. There was such a wide range of people that had to have that soundtrack. It opened the door for old-time music.”

Mr. Skaggs will perform on Sunday, Jan. 12, at St. Matthew’s on New Canaan Road. Preferred seating tickets are on sale for $80, and regular seating tickets are  $40. Tickets are available at