In 2014, Del McCoury celebrated his 75th birthday, his 50th wedding anniversary and the 7th edition of DelFest, his namesake bluegrass festival. Lucky Seven!! The participants of DelFest 2014 were the beneficiaries of that luck in the form of beautiful weather. The days were warm and sunny, allowing everyone to thaw out from a long, cold winter. The evenings were cool, sweatshirt – weather, keeping the crowds on their feet and in constant motion.
The festival started on Thursday afternoon. The schedule was light, starting with a sound-check by the Del McCoury Band. The band played a lot of requests from the audience, and worked out some of the kinks. They were followed by The Deadly Gentlemen, a Boston-based modern bluegrass quintet. Next up was The Devil Makes Three, from Vermont. The trio plays a mix of gypsy swing, ragtime and bluegrass. The headliner for the evening was Greensky Bluegrass. The highlights of their 90 minute set were a cover of Traffic’s 1971 tune, Light Up or Leave Me Alone, and a guest appearance by the festival’s host, Del McCoury. Greensky and Del played Beauty of My Dreams and I’ve Endured. All sets started and ended according to the schedule, and the final set wrapped up by the midnight curfew.
Friday started off with The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. This Southern Indiana trio plays a bluesy style of Americana, using vintage and non-traditional instruments. Committed to making sure the crowd had fun, Peyton involved everyone in his tunes and encouraged audience participation. He called on the crowd to sing along, clap their hands, stomp their feet and scream. He played various guitars, including one made from a cigar box. His setlist for the afternoon included Easy Come, Easy Go, Dirt, Front Porch Trained and You Can’t Judge a Book By Its Cover. Next on the schedule was Yonder Mountain String Band. Since they had recently lost their mandolin player, Jeff Austin, the remaining three members called on Jerry Douglas (dobro) and John Frazier (mandolin) to round things out. They invited Del McCoury to help out with On a Monday and Hit Parade of Love and the Traveling McCourys joined them for the final two songs, Kentucky Mandolin and the Talking Heads cover, Girlfriend is Better.
The crowd thinned out a little with many returning to their campsites for dinner. The families started packing up the kiddies as The Del McCoury Band treated everyone to some classic Appalachian bluegrass. The sun was dropping down below the mountains and the temperature turned brisk. The stage was being set up for the final act of the night, Railroad Earth. Opening with Seven Story Mountain, you could immediately realize that we had moved from bluegrass to “jamgrass.” Tunes from Last of the Outlaws, Railroad Earth’s new album were featured in the set with When the Sun Gets In Your Blood, Grandfather Mountain, Monkey and Chasing a Rainbow. Other stand outs were Hunting Song and Elko, and the set closed with the encore, Peace on Earth. Day two was in the history books.
Saturday was a good opportunity to recharge our batteries. The schedule was light with an afternoon set by the Carolina Chocolate Drops on the main stage. This was followed by another appearance by the Del McCoury Band and then Bruce Hornsby sat in with Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. They opened with the classic country song, How Mountain Girls can Love, followed by the Bill Monroe tune, Toy Heart and the traditional folk song, Darlin’ Corey. The set moved through The Way It Is, Bruce Hornsby’s first hit, The Dreaded Spoon, Blue Night, Little Maggie, White Wheeled Limousine, and ended with another Bill Monroe song, Uncle Pen. That was it for us for the day. The final band was the Traveling McCourys which we missed.
Sunday, the final day of the festival, was upon us, and that meant String Cheese Incident. But, before that we were treated to The Duhks, the “soulgrass” band from Canada. They blend bluegrass, blues, folk, and Cajun music styles to form an eclectic mix. This was followed by banjo innovator, Bela Fleck, but no longer with the Flecktones. Now he’s performing with his wife, Abigail Washburn and we were treated to a set of traditional banjo music. Hot Rize was next up on the Main Stage schedule. They are comprised of Tim O’Brien on the mandolin, Nick Forster on the bass, and Pete Wernick on the banjo and Bryan Sutton on the guitar. The set also featured an appearance by Red Knuckles and the Trailblazers, the costumed Western swing alter ego of the band. The Del McCoury Band made its final appearance on the main stage next. They brought out all of their family members and thanked all of the people that made this festival a big success. After their set, the stage began its transformation and preparation for the String Cheese Incident.
SCI opened the first set with Song in My Head, the title track from their recently released studio album. This was followed by Close Your Eyes into Can’t Stop Now. Next was Smile, which Billy Nershi dedicated to his wife, Jillian, who was celebrating her birthday. Billy also invited Joe Craven, the festival’s master of ceremonies, to help Jason Hann out on percussion. This was followed by Sitting on Top of the World, with Del McCoury sitting in on guitar and a new tune by Michael Kang, Beautiful. Continuing with the theme of guest appearances, Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster helped out on Land’s End and Glory Chords. They stuck around for the set ending, I Know You Rider, with Jeff Austin on mandolin.
The second set opened with Bumpin’ Reel followed by Miss Brown’s Tea House into Can’t Wait Another Day, the song keyboard player, Kyle Hollingsworth wrote about waiting for the birth of his daughter. The Traveling McCourys joined Cheese on stage for Colorado Bluebird Sky. The set ended with Sirens into This Must Be the Place into Shine. The encore was Bolly Munster, and that ended a perfect weekend of great music.
Memorial Day weekend is always busy, even more so now with the proliferation of music festivals. Summer Camp in Chillicothe, IL, and Dark Star Jubilee in Thornville, OH are on the same weekend, and they feature some of the same bands and genres. DelFest is a great alternative for good family fun. It’s located in the mountains of Western Maryland, nestled along the banks of the Potomac River. The food and beer vendors are first class, with craft beers, pizza, tacos, BBQ and Chinese food available, and ICE CREAM from the local Queen City Creamery. It’s a great opportunity to relax and enjoy a simpler way of life.