In our bluegrass journey, we have had many opportunities not often afforded to most fans. We've been to people's studios, traveled to a variety of venues, and met some of the most wonderful people we've ever known. Being invited into their homes, however, remains a rare and valued event. Getting to attend a rehearsal, perhaps the most risky and potentially tension-filled of times short of an actual recording session, is even rarer. To be invited to an at-home meal and rehearsal at Donna Ulisse's home was, therefore, anticipated as a valued and treasured time...and so it was.
We drove south of Nashville to a suburban neighborhood, arriving (early) to find Donna at the stove finishing up her dinner. She had promised an Italian feast to celebrate her shared heritage with Irene, whose maternal grandparents immigrated from Italy in the early 20th century. Her dinner of pasta and chicken in a rich sauce exceeded all expectations! Soon, husband Rick Stanley (a cousin of Dr. Ralph's) came home, and was followed by other members of the band. Donna feeds the band every Tuesday before a several hour rehearsal. The dogs, Molly and Tenbrooks (both rescue dogs) frisked around, greeting old friends in the house while making two new ones.
Somehow, I managed not to have my camera out to take pictures of the meal Donna served us. Penne, chicken in a delicious sauce, garlic bread, salad, a few alternative adult beverages...what a way to get a busy group of bandsmen to reliably come to a rehearsal. After a leisurely time eating and joking, the instruments came out and rehearsal began.
Rick Stanley, second cousin to Carter and Ralph, has fond memories of their staying at his family home when he was a child. He had to give up his bunk bed for Carter and Ralph to sleep on a pallet on the floor in the same room, and remembers them picking music together on those visits. At age fifteen, Rick wrote "Home in the Mountains," which Ralph recorded and Keith Whitley sang. The song has been covered many times. It was included on the Stanley Tradition tribute album, sung by Charlie Sizemore and more recently included on Doctors Orders by Don Rigsby, Donna says she now calls Rick "The Standard." Married for thirty years, Rick and Donna are co-writers and best friends, as well as husband and wife.
Molly Grooves on the Sounds