DelFest 8

Festival Experience Archive

for The Lot Scene by Parker


It’s one thing to wake up on a Friday morning, excited at the prospect of the weekend ahead, filled with anticipation for what-might-be.  It’s another thing entirely to wake up thusly at DelFest with a head still teeming with so much music from the day before.  I mean, by the time your eyes open on a DF morning, the last strains of Late Night have barely even faded.  And this year’s Friday morning was no different.  The weather corrected itself from the previous nasty to that delightful, sunny, easy, breezy, beautiful climate that we all have come to yearn for during our annual Memorial Day gatherings in Cumberland.  As if DelFest could get any better!  And it sure did that day when it came to music.  So it was on our way to the Potomac Stage for a little Grand Ole’ Ditch to get the party started right.  To get it started quickly, right?  (If you catch that reference, I applaud you. Heh.)  Handing out buttons and meeting all sorts smiling folks along the way I could already tell I was in for another wonderful day with Del and all his invited guests.  

Grand Ole’ Ditch

Grand Ole’ Ditch.  Cumberland boys.  Hometown heroes.  Playing their very first DelFest and having the distinction of being the first local band to play the festival.  And it was my first time seeing them.  Lots of firsts going on there.  And this seven-member band certainly wowed and delighted all of us gathered to see with rollicking sounds of bluegrass-gone-rock-gone-hillbilly stomp.  I instantly dug their sound — just a fun band to see live, plain and simple.  “Pigeon Eatin’ Catfish” is a favorite around the TLS offices so we were jazzed when they played it that morning.  With a slightly similar cadence and feel to Charlie Daniels’s “The Devil Went Down to Georgia”, the song is danceable to say the very least and features some excellent harmony execution.  Such a good and driving sound there is to this band that Will commented he had a hard time taking pictures and trying to keep his camera steady for wont of dancing:  you see the lengths we go to to get you the goods?  Heh.  G.O.D. (I just like abbreviating it that way) finished with a bang doing much justice to their DelFest debut.  I instantly knew that I’d be back at the Potomac on Sunday for their second set of the weekend.  Bravo, boys!  See you then!

Mandolin, Mandolin, and More Mandolin - David Grisman, Ronnie McCoury, and Sierra Hull

So we raced from Grand Ole’ Ditch over to the Music Hall to catch a small bit of this unique and powerhouse-led workshop with three of the finest players alive today:  Grisman, McCoury, and Hull.  Hailing from three distinct generations of bluegrass and certainly possessed of three rather different styles, the anecdotal material they doled out alongside some very fine and illustrative mando picking felt like being privy to some secrets of the ages mixed in with humor and smiles and laughter.  For instance, Dave enlightened us with this trick of the trade:  he figured out a long time ago that the fewer notes you play, the more you get paid per note.  Wise words for gigging musicians, especially mandolin players!  And the musical selections were of great interest as well, straying far from just traditional bluegrass tunes.  For instance there was a “Minor Swing” that was pretty fantastic — great energy to that swing feel and the entire fabric of the melody afloat on a sea of minor notes and chords.  Just lovely.  Almost needless to say the playing from all three musicians was superb and it was a real privilege to be able to watch the intertwining of such skill and acumen on one stage and from these three.  I know that I heard quite a few folks reminiscing about this workshop all weekend.  Great job you guys and many thanks for such an educational look into the mandolin and its chosen players.

The Brothers Comatose

Back out into the sunshine and returning to the Potomac Stage, we all strolled over to check our The Brothers Comatose for a hot minute.  We walked up to a mostly seated crowd, chilling in the warm light, and soaking in as much good string music as the sun.  “Pie For Breakfast” was the first song we got and I was glad, it being one of my favorites.  I can really get behind the message, you know?  And it was a DelFest-worthy version to be sure.  I had seen the Brothers for the first time at WinterWonderGrass this year in Vail and had really enjoyed their sound.  So it was nice to get to see them in an entirely different setting, like a warm place with no snow.  After catching a quick couple of numbers more we hustled off to Larry Keel on the Main Stage — damn you conflicting schedule!!  Heh.

The Larry Keel Experience

On the heels of my first Larry Keel Experience the night before I was ready for more grassy greatness, Larry-style.  Walking up to him covering the Dead’s “Brown-Eyed Women”, therefore, was pretty damn perfect.  Twangning into the mic and guitar twanging in his hands, it was a wholly excellent cover with a particularly weird and funky jam slammed in the middle and after which Larry thanked Ger Bear.  Another really unforgettable DelFest moment from DF 8.  A Will Lee-led “Fire Line” came further down the set featuring some hot pickin’ by the banjo player.  The remainder of the show was just as funked-out and dirty as you’d expect from Larry, Jenny, and their buddy, Mr. Lee.  Definitely an Experience I am looking forward to having again, and soon.  Hopefully in Colorado?

The Del McCoury Band

The reason for the season.  The man, the myth, our adopted grandpappy.  And his band of merry makers…and dastardly bluegrass daredevils.  All gathered for another Main Stage delight the likes of which only they can deliver.  And talk about your home-field advantage!  “Travelin’ Teardrop Blues” sparked the night to life with Del leading strongly on the vocals.  Great selection for an opener.  Ronnie’s tune, “The Quicksburg Run”, came along down the line and was a pristine example of that oh-so-fabulous thing we refer to as “fast pickin’”.  From Ronnie’s mandolin lines to Rob’s hot banjo runs, this was a chasing, bracing tune I’d very much like to hear again.  Del was back to the mic for the conflicted “Hard on My Heart” — the story of one man’s struggle between his desires and his common sense.  Not sure that anyone reading this could relate.  No, never.  Heh.  “I can’t come up to her lifestyle and she can’t come down to mine.”  What a perfect line — love it.  And this version had some great instrumentals, as to be expected — Ronnie in particular.  Rob McCoury then offered us some straight, sizzlin’ pickin’ with a tune he’d written, also featuring Jason Carter on some wonderful fiddle runs.  Anyone who knows Del knows of his ties to country music’s capital, Nashville.  As such, “Nashville Cats” shouldn’t surprise anyone as a song selection for a McCoury setlist.  However, it’s always nice to be pleasantly surprised during a show when you get these little gifts on song from your favorite musicians, never knowing if or when or what order they might arrive in.  And those “Cats” arrived quite well!  Jason Carter then dedicated a steam-powered-saw of a fiddle tune to The Broomestix and urged us all to go and see this new and upcoming band.  It was a hell of a dedication to them, that’s for sure.  One thing that occurred to me as I watch The Del Band play that night is that there is so much showmanship up on stage in addition to the actual music, but I had never really considered them a “show band” before.  However, the orchestrated movements and rearranging of the line-up, etc., all these things that add to the overall value and meaning of a show.  The vibrancy and kinetic nature of each member of the band as they interact both spatially and musically is infectious and palpable and leaves one yearning for more.  This aspect of this marvelously incredible band is certainly worth noting here — I will definitely consider them a show band from here on out.  Alan Bartram offered up a sad and soulful “Teardrops In My Eyes” whose lyrics were a little betrayed by the upbeat tempo of the backing tune.  Always love to hear Alan sing.  Jim Wriggleman was a lucky fellow to have “She Can’t Burn Me Now” played for him per his request.  Del was fond of taking requests as always and good Jim got to be the lucky one.  Way to go, Jim!!  Who doesn’t love them some Del voice??  I mean it!!  The “Smoking Gun” that he gave us that night most indubitably featured some fine, fine Del voice — that tenor timbre we’ve all come to love and want at our shows.  And then it was fan favorite time:  “All Aboard”.  Need I say more, really?  Well, I will.  It was chilling.  And haunting.  And amazing.  All in one.  Very well-executed, too.  Best live performance I have seen of that song to date.  And I am anxious to see more.  Del co-wrote the subsequent “Never Grow Up Boy”, a Peter-Pan-esque cautionary tale about resisting the maturation process through music and bluegrass.  I think that sounds like lovely advice, don’t you?  Thanks, Del!  Reprising a choice from the day before, the next song was “Vincent Black Lightning 1952” which is always, always a great one to hear.  Then the Dawg himself came out for a few numbers to include an old Monroe Brothers tune, “We Can’t Be Darlins Anymore” by Flatt and Scruggs, and one that Grisman wrote in honor of Red Allen called “Pigeon Loose”.  What a treat to have Dawg up with Del and the boys!!  Each one was rife with incredible playing as you can imagine and having Ronnie and Grisman trading off was a sight to see.  What a Friday night set, you guys!!!  Thanks, so much to Del McCoury, his sons, and their friends for making so much beautiful music and for sharing it with all of us.  Already jonesing for Sunday!!

Late Night - Greensky Bluegrass

In many ways Greensky’s late night show could be considered a somewhat mellower extension of the monster they unleashed on the Main Stage the night before.  Opening with “Demons” the sine wave roller coaster began as it gave way to an explosive “Leap Year”, Anders’s all-too-familiar dobro notes ringing out to herald in Paul’s song.  Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth joined them on fiddle for a smokin’ and speedy “Breadbox” which was fun for all of us, almost as much fun as it seemed for the band.  This was not the same band that was snubbed at Merriweather, this was not the same band that was reborn in Richmond, this was a new band full of the joy of playing and of sharing that music with others.  And it was awesome to witness.  What does a band look like that’s rebuilt its own soul?  Like these fellas completely on top of their collective game.  It just happened to be Bruzza’s birthday that day so they band gifted him a bunch of solos (which was a delightful thing to do) such as “Letter to Seymour” and “Blood Sucking F(r)iends”.  And we even sang “Happy Birthday” to him — what a jolly time it was!!  There was a nice long “All Four” sammiched into the mix as well as “Worried About the Weather” featuring Nicky Sanders of The Steep Canyon Rangers.  Later on, the band slowed things down a bit with “Jaywalking” which had some intense moments in the latter half of the song.  “Wheelhouse” fast-picked things right back up again with some particularly adept playing from the birthday boy, himself, not to mention the other lads in the band.  As the set wound to a close we got a lengthy and excellent “Broke Mountain Breakdown” which went into a “Don’t Under Do It” Reprise connecting this show to the previous evening’s all the more.  And then an encore of all things!!  And they made us all want to “Shout!” (Kick my heels up and - Shout! Throw my hands up and - Shout!  Throw my head back and - Shout!  Come on now - Shout!  Don't forget to say you will!!). That’s right, that was the encore.  Heavens to Murgatroyd!!  No notes!!  

Friday you set the standard even higher!!  Saturday?  Looking at you, Saturday…