Festival Experience Archive
for The Lot Scene by Parker
We arrived early into Cumberland on a foggy, rainy, chilly morning a week ago today for DelFest 8 filled with warm and rosy joyful anticipations that belied the grayer, bluer, bleaker hues just outside the camper doors. As we rolled to a stop at our new campsite, we were already planning out the day’s music, with thoughts of Del and Greensky and Railroad and so many others filling our heads for the kick-off day to a weekend filled to the brim with blue-ribbon bluegrass badassery. Reports had it that the off-site ticketing process was as smooth as it was last year and the on-site one worked perfectly as well, to include our media passes. Hats off to DelFest for such an easy transition to the fest — you guys make it so painless every year — many thanks! After getting ourselves and site all set and set-up (which we did in a record 30 minutes…thank you, thank you), we took the obligatory walk around to familiarize ourselves with the food vendor offerings (which were all stellar — more to come on them later) as well as to locate friends’ campsites and routes between. You know, all the things we do when we tent-city-up for a weekend of amazing, life-altering grass music alongside some of our most favorite people. Like you do. Like you do. It was plain to see from the elaborate digs being assembled in some sites to the abundance of flags and tapestries to the general feeling of festival joy and merriment that DelFest was growing and maturing and becoming even more “festivalish” with each passing year. I love this time of day on the first one of a fest, too. The time when friends stop by on their own journeys around. Friends like Greensky’s Paul Hoffman who sat down and rapped with us for the better part of an hour telling fun and funny stories from his time in the limelight. We’d be catching up with Mr. Hoffman Friday afternoon for a great interview (which can be found here: Paul Hoffman Interview).
A big, big round of applause for the food vendors this year! Definitely good to see some old friends like Goatocado and Pie for the People! as well as to try some new delicious food from The Taco Tent and Timi’s Greek and Middle Eastern Foods. So much wonderful variety and so many fresh options. If you are vegetarian/vegan or have other dietary concerns, you should be able to find several options between the various vendors (I am vegetarian and ate like a lion…well, a vegetarian lion at any rate). There’s also the option of ice cream or Hawaiian shaved ice, kettle corn, and fresh, hot coffee and espresso. In short, don’t feel you need to pack a lot of food if you don’t want — save a lot of time and eat well by bringing some extra cash if you can and plan on hitting DelFest’s delicious and plentiful Food Court. Kudos to all the great food vendors for keeping our bellies full and happy so we could keep our souls nourished with that fine bluegrass music we came to hear!!
Speaking of music — you want to read a little about some DelFest tunes, do you? Well, alrighty then! Let’s begin!
The Del McCoury Band - Sound Check
So, how did Del get the whole shebang started this year, you might ask? Oh, just by freeing a flock of white doves from a cage to herald the beginning of the best DelFest yet! It was a serene and sweet sight, such a vision and symbol of peace and the prediction of an incredible amount of enjoyment to come. Then the band fired up “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight” with that great Jason Carter lick leading into it and I found myself in a quick but lovely conversation with Lisa McCoury, Rob’s wife. It was certainly a treat to be chatting with a McCoury as Del and the boys played away on stage, starting up this DelFest in rather fine fashion. They then followed with the chilling tale of “Henry Walker” and a sizzling fiddle tune for a bit of counterbalance. The slightly mournful but tongue-in-cheek “Forty Acres and a Fool” was next with its varied cadence, back and forth between the soulful verses and the hopping instrumental interludes. Certainly a delightful little song and a favorite of mine. Further on down the line, and seemingly in honor of the gray day and wet weather, came Obray Ramsey’s now famous “Cold Rain and Snow”, Del’s lovely falsetto and world-class smile bringing warmth to the huddled masses in front of him and his band. This song featured some particularly groovy instrumental solos from the band as well that helped make the weather a bit sunnier in spirit for all of us as well as Del’s invitation to sing along — always a nice thing to be asked. And then, how about another ballad? Del yeah! “John Henry” at a rapid clip sound good to you? Well it sure sounded great to us in the crowd, enough so that I remarked in my voice notes that if this was just a sound check then we were in for a mighty damn fine weekend of music all around. It would seem that Del and his band had designed a setlist based around the weather with each new apropos song that emanated from the speakers and the stage, “Big Blue Raindrops” being no exception. Nice to have life and setlist so intertwined — it made for a poignant show in that regard. That incredible crowd favorite and, of course, another personal favorite of this author is “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” followed and instantly set the audience ablaze with applause and cheers for this fantastic song. Del even started the song over so that we could all sing along with him from the beginning — the consummate gentlemen always. And certainly one who knows how to treat his fans very well. Despite a small flub in lyrics that had us all cheering and laughing and carrying on we all had a blast getting into this story with Del and Rob and Ronnie and Jason and Alan yet once again. And then the cutest, most adorable event of the weekend occurred: Vassar McCoury, Del’s little grandson, came out on stage with a tiny cello and the most awesome wee hat and joined The Del McCoury Band for “Cheek to Cheek with the Blues”. Seriously, it was complete cuteness overload…almost terminal. So amazing to see three generations of McCoury on stage at the same time. That was not the last time that would happen that weekend. This sound check set was stellar, there can be no doubts. Del always seems to set a very high bar for his fest and this year was to be no different. The tone established was absolutely one with which I could get in sync, however, if it meant more of what I had just witnessed. Thanks Del, thanks boys, for such a great opener to DelFest 8!!
Main Stage. DelFest. A week to the day after Dear Jerry. So, just how was this going to go? After Richmond’s redemptive healing show, there were still questions on many people’s minds as to how this show would be turning out. And then, once again, as if in answer to our unspoken questions the band leveled a colossal “Eyes of the World” at us thus proving once more their determination to move forward, leave the past, and take full control of their performance path and their musical destiny. At one point you could see Anders point to a banner in the crowd which read “Dear Jerry Missed You” as the first strains of the familiar and pined-for song ventured into the audience. And it was just absolutely phenomenal. Twelve-plus minutes of a righteous rendition of this Dead tune, this ultimate crowd fave. And don’t forget all the jams. Know what? It’s probably best if you just go take a look here as see for yourself: "Eyes of the World" - GSBG - DelFest 8. See? Wasn’t that incredibly good? Told you so! After that sweet smacking around, the energy jumped up to the sky with a speedy “Hit Parade of Love” care of one Dave Bruzza on the vocals. Fast pickin’ the Greensky way. Which then continued with another Bruzza lead: “Kerosene”, quick and tight and clean, it was another strong addition to a very strong set. Backing things down a bit, Hoffman next stepped up to the mic for the mournful, brooding “Bring Out Your Dead”. The boys then played a “West Virginia song” for a friend of theirs they hadn’t seen in eight years — it began with a really nice and gorgeous a cappella intro and continued with very sweet harmonies throughout, really quite lovely. A really fine round-robin of instrumental pickin’ at the end between Anders and Bruzz and Phoff also added another excellent dimension to this song. Keeping Paul at the mic for a “Windshield” gave us another expressive selection from their repertoire, and this version was particularly impressive. As was this show in general. Honestly one of the very best I have seen from them. Understandably reminiscent of the Richmond show the week previous, the song choices centered a bit around the new album. Like the “Burn Them” that came after “Windshield” for instance. However, the hard-driving bluegrass that comes from some of these selections makes it so very worth it, of course. And unsurprising: the new album is pretty amazing, after all. “In Control”, the contemplative, thoughtful exploration is another great example from What If Sorrows Swim and is a lovely solo from Paul anytime you get to hear it. And I am glad we got to. This went into “Can’t Stop Now” which was followed by a rowdy Talking Heads-esque public service announcement with “Don’t Under Do It”. Trust me, you hear that song and you say that phrase to each other all weekend long. And I mean all weekend long. So, don’t under do it, OK? OK. The final selection was an almost 15 minute long “Don’t Lie” that had a really lengthy and killer nasty, dirty, exquisite jam at the end with some great “Eyes of the World” reprises and teases and just the right amount of really, really, extremely good music to make for a damn-near perfect show. What a mind-blowing experience. Thanks for the bomb diggity show, boys!! An absolute highlight of the weekend and a marvelous way to close out the Main Stage that night. Which means it must be time for late night, no?
Late Night - The Larry Keel Experience - Railroad Earth
Time for some late night shenanigannery in The Music Hall. First up tonight? The Larry Keel Experience. Admittedly, that night was to be my first Keel Experience. Believe-you-me, it will not be my last. I was unfamiliar with many of the songs and tunes, but that won’t be an excuse in the future. The musicianship and Larry’s indomitable energy was abounding on stage that night. Jason Carter was joining in on fiddle with the Keels and Will, the banjo player — it was going to be a special bit of music. Dave Bruzza also joined in during the set to add his drumming, yes drumming, skills to the mix. And then we added Phoff on mando. And then Andy from Railroad. Jeebus. All-in-all it was, in a word, fantastic — what an ensemble!! And the blues song they banged out together was just dirty good. I think you hear a band as close to its best as possible in a place like DelFest’s late night setting. Railroad Earth certainly did the other night when they opened with “Chasin’ A Rainbow” with a great, long jam in the middle with lots of tasty fiddle and mandolin. Those nocturnal partiers assembled in the hall were very much loving the vibe handed out by the RRE fellas. And, true-to-form, they kept bringing jam after jam after jam to each subsequent song, clearly very much enjoying the art of doing so. Anders Beck joined in on electric slide for “Donkey For Sale” bringing yet more musicianship to the powerhouse assembled on stage. Andy also did his double saxophone party trick for us to much fanfare from the crowd. A lovely “Dandelion Wine” came later in the set which was closed with “Warhead Boogie” into “Genesis” and an encore of “Fiddlee”. What a wonderful show that was! How great to see such incredible musicians really “on” and at the top of their collective game! Kudos to DelFest Late Night and all that it brings!!