An Evening with the Del McCoury Band

An Evening with the Del McCoury Band

One listen and it’s clear as crystal. There is Del.

Event Details

DEL MCCOURY

Even among the pantheon of music’s finest artists, Del McCoury stands alone. From the nascent sound of bluegrass that charmed hardscrabble hillbilly honkytonks, rural schoolhouse stages, and the crowning glory of the Grand Ole Opry to the present-day culture-buzz of viral videos and digital streams, Del is the living link. On primetime and late-night television talk shows, there is Del. From headlining sold-out concerts to music festivals of all genres, including one carrying his namesake, there is Del. Where audiences number in the tens of thousands, and admirers as diverse as country-rock icon Steve Earle and jamband royalty Phish count as two among hundreds, there is Del.

 

Emerging from humble beginnings in York County, PA nearly eighty years ago, Del was not the likeliest of candidates for legendary status. As a teen, he was captivated by the banjo playing of one of its masters, Earl Scruggs, and decided he’d be a banjo picker, too. The Baltimore/Washington, D.C. bar scene of the early 1960s was lively and rough. Del caught a break. More than a break, really. It was an opportunity of a lifetime; joining Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys in early 1963. Considered the Father of Bluegrass, Monroe transformed McCoury, moving him from the banjo to guitar, anointing him lead singer, and providing him with a priceless trove of bluegrass tutelage direct from the source.

 

Countless hours of recording sessions and miles of tireless touring dotted the decades. Del carried on, and carried with him the hallowed traditions of the form and its dedicated following. The passing years became certificates of authenticity . So, in the sea of grunge and R&B that dominated the music scene of the mid-1990s, it was special, perhaps even startling, to see: There was Del.

 

Now helming the Del McCoury Band, with sons Ronnie and Rob, the ensemble did and continues to represent in a larger, growing musical community a peerless torchbearer for the entire sweep and scope of bluegrass history . Those many years, not to mention a good-natured willingness to stay alert to the latest sounds and opportunities around him, earned McCoury a whole new generation of fans, including some in unlikely places.

 

“I’m just doing what’s natural,” says Del. “When young musicians ask me what they should do I always tell them, ‘You do whatever’s inside of you. Do what you do best.’”

 

No surprise that contemporary, bluegrass-bred stars sang his praises; marquee names like Vince Gill and Alison Krauss (who first met Del at a bluegrass festival when she subbed for his missing fiddler). Yet, here too was rocker Earle recording and touring with the group. Here was Phish jamming onstage with the boys. Here was the band on TV, or headlining rock clubs and college campuses; the can’t-miss appearances at country and jazz festivals. There was Del.

“We don’t have a setlist,” says Del. “We try and work in the new songs, but a lot of times it’s just requests from the audience. It’s more interesting for the band, for me, and for the audience because nobody knows what’s coming next.”

Almost unimaginable, McCoury’s sixth decade in a half-century of bluegrass bliss brings new triumphs, new collaborations, and new music. With but a single change in membership in twenty seven years The Del McCoury Band shows unprecedented stability as well as garnering the respect and admiration of the industry for its unmistakable work: nine IBMA Entertainer of the Year trophies; in 2003, Del’s awarded membership in the cast of the legendary Grand Ole Opry; the band’s first Best Bluegrass Album Grammy award, in ’05, followed by a second Grammy win in 2014, (not to mention double-digit nominations).

 

“I know (having the same band) helped with my success. It keeps your sound constant,” says Del. “We really enjoy what we’re doing.”

 

The group traveled with the groundbreaking post-O Brother "Down From The Mountain" tour, and performed with Gill, recording on his Grammy-winning These Days, as well as country sensation Dierks Bentley. In addition to becoming something of a regular at the wildly popular Bonnaroo Music Festival, they’ve also curated and expanded Del’s annual namesake festival.

 

One of the premier string-band events in the country, the multi-day, multi-stage DelFest showcases the new lions of the genre such as Greensky Bluegrass, The Infamous Stringdusters, and Old Crow Medicine Show, and legends like Ricky Skaggs, Sam Bush, and Bobby Osborne, plus a diversity of artists like Phish frontman Trey Anastasio and blues-rock veterans Gov’t Mule to Americana darlings The Wood Brothers and Rhiannon Giddens.

 

“DelFest is a great accomplishment,” says Del. “I never thought it would be as successful as it is. And, when Sony Music came calling, post-Hurricane Katrina, proposing a collaboration with New Orleans’ revered Preservation Hall Jazz Band, there was Del. If there was ever a collection of recordings confirming McCoury’s wide-ranging impact and spirit of musical comradery, it would be American Legacies. A wonderfully fulfilling cross-section of traditional bluegrass and the Dixieland pomp of New Orleans, the album typified the Del McCoury Band’s evolution from bluegrass vanguard to an American treasure.

 

“All music is related. Bill Monroe went to New Orleans and listened to jazz players. Earl Scruggs- some of the tunes he recorded were from New Orleans,” says Del. “It all fits together if you’re willing to be open-minded.”

 

And like any genuine treasure, the gifts keep coming. On their latest release, Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass - a title that echoes his 1968 debut on Arhoolie Records, Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass - Del and the boys bring home another stellar collection of traditional bluegrass music. With 14 songs brimming with hot licks, classic songcraft, even some boundary-stretching electric guitar, and once again, Del’s matchless vocal delivery, the Del McCoury Band moves up the gold bar standard of bluegrass yet another notch. “What I like in a record is variety of moods, of tempos,” Del says. “I consider myself traditional at heart, but I don’t have any boundaries. I’m just a guy that likes to sing and play music. Whatever strikes me to do I’ll do it. Without wrecking things.”

 

One listen and it’s clear as crystal. There is Del .

RONNIE MCCOURY

Ronnie McCoury was born in York County, Pennsylvania on March 16, 1967. It was in York County that he made his home for the first 24 years of his life. In January of 1992, Ronnie and his wife Allison made the move to Nashville, TN and it is here they have resided since that time. Growing up in a house where bluegrass music was played, and always listened to, Ron had the exposure from a very young age. Many pickin’ parties were held at the house, along with rehearsals that his Dad would have with his band then, The Dixie Pals.

Like lots of other young boys, sports interested Ronnie very much. In particular, baseball and basketball. One thing he clearly remembers is the fact that his dad never pushed him to play music or never “pushed it on him” at all, leaving both Ron and Rob to choose their paths on their own. At the age of 9 he started taking violin lessons. He took the lessons for two years and gave it up for sports. He played sports all the way through high school. But when he was just 13, after attending a show with his Dad where he saw Bill Monroe perform, he decided that he wanted to play the mandolin. He practiced on it for six months and when his Dad had an opening in the band for mandolin player, he asked Ron to fill it. That was on May 28, 1981 and Ronnie has been playing with his Dad ever since.

In 1995 Ronnie and Rob teamed up and put out a self-titled CD on Rounder Records. In 1998 Ronnie teamed up with David Grisman and some other great mandolin players to create the CD titled “Mandolin Extravaganza”, which made it’s appearance on the Acoustic Disc label in 1999. This CD was nominated for a Grammy Award and also won Instrumental Album of the Year and Recorded Event of the Year at the IBMA awards show in October of 2000. In 1999, Ronnie co-produced The Mountain, with Steve Earle and The Del McCoury Band. 2000 also brought along with it Ronnie’s first solo project…Heartbreak Town. A must hear for everyone!

Ronnie is married to Allison Bliss from Massachusetts and they have three children, Evan, Joshua and Emma. Someone once asked Ronnie what his greatest accomplishments were, musically or non and his first response was “Starting my own family”. Next in line was receiving the Grammy for “The Company We Keep”. Family life is very important to the McCourys. Having children inspired Ronnie to put out his next project, Little ‘Mo McCoury, a CD full of children’s songs done Bluegrass style.

Along with his award winning mandolin playing, Ronnie is also a singer/songwriter and producer He has recorded or performed with such diverse acts as Bill Monroe, Earl Scruggs, Phish, Charlie Daniels, John Hartford, Vince Gill, Loretta Lynn, Alison Krauss, David Grisman, Dierks Bentley, Garth Brooks, the Allman Brothers, John Paul Jones and countless others!

When Ron isn’t on stage with the Del McCoury Band or The Travelin’ McCoury’s, singing and playing mandolin, you will probably find him at home with his family. He enjoys cooking, gardening and reading. He loves to play golf, remodel and do construction work. He also enjoys picking up the guitar or maybe even the fiddle for a little musical change.

ROB MCCOURY

Rob was born April 30, 1971 in York, PA as Robin Floyd McCoury. His earliest memories are of music, especially since it was everywhere around the house. There were picking parties, rehearsals and festivals. Rob went to his first bluegrass festival at Ontalanee Park in Allentown, PA when he was six weeks old.

Rob “caught the pickin’ bug” when he was just eight years old, after seeing the Osborne Brothers at Sunset Park in West Grove, PA. He then realized how fortunate he was to have a great teacher in the house. Although he feels at times he was trying on his Dad’s patience he remembers that his dad would always take the time to show him the right way to pick, never forcing the music on him. Rob recalls “picking first thing in the morning and the last thing I did at night”, and it was what he wanted to do.

In June of 1986 Del had a festival to play in Bath, NY and he needed a bass player. At that time Rob knew almost nothing about playing a bass fiddle. He knew the chords on the bass but had never played before in a band situation. Although he was scared to death he played bass with his Dad that day and ended up being the bass player in the band for about a year, until the banjo position became available.

Rob’s first show as a banjo player was a benefit show for Olla Belle Reed, a great singer/songwriter who penned one of Del’s most requested songs, “High on the Mountain”, along with many others. The show was in the spring of 1987 in Wilmington, DE and he has been with the band ever since.

In May of 1992 the McCoury family moved to Nashville, TN. Rob is convinced the move was the best one they could have made. He is very appreciative of his life and the experiences he has had. In his own words, “It’s been a wonderful adventure that keeps getting better and better. I couldn’t imagine what my life would be like without music. I have gotten to see many parts of the world and meet lots of great people. I’ve made many great friends, but most of all I met my best friend, my wife Lisa, who supports me every step of the way.”

Rob is presently working with his Dad as well as the Travelin’ McCoury’s featuring his fellow band mates Ronnie McCoury, Jason Carter, and Alan Bartram.

Rob also has two children, a daughter Monroe Kennedy McCoury age 6, and a son and Grandpa’s namesake, Del Mercer Davis McCoury age 2.

ALAN BARTRAM

Alan Bartram is a bassist, vocalist, and closet guitarist. His Mother taught him to sing and he learned to play the bass by listening to and watching other bassists. If Alan wasn’t a full-time musician, he would be a horticulturist. But, after graduating from college, he decided on a career in music and moved from Pennsylvania to Nashville, TN. While playing with The Kenny and Amanda Smith Band, he also became an in-demand freelance musician both for touring and recording. Since 2005 Alan has been the bassist for the Del McCoury band and is now also a member of The Travelin’ McCourys. The rest is the future…

JASON CARTER

In Lloyd, Kentucky, on U.S. 23, there’s a sign on the Country Music Highway dedicated to renowned fiddler Jason Carter. It was placed there because of his other accomplishments—the Grammy awards, the worldwide tours, and the many other accolades he’s earned through his music. But for Carter, joining the legendary names honored on that stretch of highway just might mean the most. "There's a certain sound that's up there that you just don't hear anywhere else," he says. "I think that played a big part in how I sound today." 

True to those Kentucky roots, Carter continues to pour all he has back into bluegrass. For thirty years, he has been the fiddle player for the Del McCoury Band—the most awarded group in bluegrass history. He’s won three Grammy awards, including 2018’s “Best Bluegrass Album” with the Travelin’ McCourys, of which he is a founding member. And he’s taken home five IBMAs for “Fiddle Player of the Year,” a staggering number that isn’t quite so crazy once you realize just how many bluegrass greats have turned to Carter for collaboration. 

As a fiddler, Carter has been featured on albums by Steve Earle, Ricky Skaggs, Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels, Vince Gill, Asleep at the Wheel, and many more, all in addition to his tireless touring and recording with Del as well as the Travelin’ McCourys. On Carter’s forthcoming solo album, Lowdown Hoedown, listeners may recognize instrumental contributions from such legends as Jerry Douglas or Sam Bush alongside vocals from young trailblazers like Sarah Jarosz or Billy Strings. This time, though, Carter is singing lead. 

The album's namesake track, a good-time duet with longtime friend Dierks Bentley, plays on Carter's dexterity on the fiddle with an flashy solo—while also showcasing his charisma as a frontman and vocalist. "Good Things Happen," a Jamie Hartford number with vocal harmonies from Aoife O'Donovan, marks the kind of tender moment fit for a first dance or sweet serenade. But Lowdown Hoedown has its somber side, too. 

"Dust Bowl Dream," a wistful narrative about a depression-era farmer, builds on its slow pace and vivid lyrical imagery with powerful harmonies from Sarah Jarosz and twin fiddles from Carter and fellow IBMA-winning fiddle player Bronwyn Keith-Hynes. The John Hartford tune "Six O'Clock Train" marks a slower, more ominous moment, calling in vocal harmonies and guitar from Billy Strings. 

Scattered across the album, too, are hints of the influences that have shaped Carter’s sound throughout his life. A guitar player since childhood and a fiddler since 15 (the age when he swore that someday he’d play in the Del McCoury Band), Carter inherited his love for bluegrass from his father, a musician himself, and grew up playing at jams, festivals, and campgrounds across Kentucky. After he graduated high school, he took his talent as a fiddler on the road professionally: first with the Goins Brothers, then at 19 with the Del McCoury Band, and later with the Travelin’ McCourys. 

In the decades since, he’s seen the bluegrass community evolve and expand.  “The bluegrass fans, they're pretty loyal,” he says, noting that he’s found a similar kinship sharing stages with jam bands like Phish and Leftover Salmon, too. “They stick behind you, they're there for you.” Carter mirrors that loyalty with his own—loyalty to his craft, loyalty to the road, and loyalty to the career path he’s dreamt of since childhood. With Lowdown Hoedown, Carter shares the fruits of decades’ worth of on-the-road experience, spectacular musical sensibility, and genuine excitement for what bluegrass can be.

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