Del McCoury Band – Bill’s Music Shop & Pickin’ Parlor (Columbia, SC)
The Del McCoury Band is often cited as a shining example of all that’s right in the world of bluegrass today, and after this long, late-afternoon show, it’s easy to understand why. The venue, Bill’s Music Shop, is hallowed ground for Carolina pickers; although the wide-slung stage is framed by a mural of burnt orange trees and foliage straight out of portrait-studio hell, the musical visions that have graced this space are undeniable. Not two weeks prior, Ralph Stanley appeared here, a monument to bluegrass music’s enduring tradition. McCoury’s band, however, is more about the future of this American genre, with Del’s youthful cohorts exuding a warmth and sincerity that bodes well for oncoming years.
Using the original bluegrass setup that clusters musicians around a single microphone, McCoury and his band performed in a graceful, almost choreographed fashion throughout the afternoon, moving in and out of range of the one mike to highlight solos and vocal turns. Highlights of the first set included a plaintive version of “I’ll Be There”, from the band’s Cold Hard Facts CD; fiddle phenom Jason Carter’s furious take on “Chicken Under The Washtub”, which is on his new Rounder CD, On The Move; and a moving gospel quartet number, “Get Down On Your Knees And Pray”. Ronnie McCoury took lead vocals for his song “Another Place, Another Time”, which featured his brother Robbie on banjo. It is a sign of this band’s versatility and contemporary feel that they can close a set with a song such as Tom Petty’s “Love Is A Long Road” at breakdown speed, rendering it in the same mold as other uptempo bluegrass numbers.
The second set was more spontaneous, with Del fielding requests from the audience for songs such as “Dreams”, which he introduced as “the first song I ever wrote, way back when.” (He promptly flubbed a line, repeated another, and closed it out with the wry comment, “I wrote that song with three verses, I think today it had about five.”) Not that the band was loose, just relaxed and having a good time.
McCoury visibly passed the generational torch by inviting his adorable grandson Jacob onstage for the last few numbers, including a two-song encore. With the lone microphone towering over the small child and his mini-fiddle, Del beamed with pride as Jacob responded to his inability to reach it. “When I get big, I will,” Jacob stated with confidence. I’ve no doubt he’ll be there as the third generation of the new First Family of bluegrass, probably sooner than we think. Me, it’s all I can do to keep up with these players right now who are so obviously at the top of their chosen art form. As a novice listener I took along with me remarked, “Well, I’ve got nowhere to go but down from here, do I?”