Telluride Bluegrass Festival
Del McCoury Band
The Real “DMB”
By Jeff Strowe
A Del McCoury Band timeline: Dedicated in honor of the greatest familial, Festival loving, and Grammy-winning bluegrass pickers working today.
For the last couple of years I had been cutting my musical teeth on alt-country, primarily the stalwarts of the genre: Uncle Tupelo/Son Volt/Wilco, Gillian Welch, Whiskeytown, and Steve Earle. High on the heels of Earle’s brilliant El Corazon, I eagerly pick up his new one, The Mountain. Hmm, a bluegrass record? Interesting, but I can get behind that. I drop it in the CD player and hear Steve’s commands “Ya gotta put your hat on, boy!” Then, a blazing fiddle, a scorching mandolin line, some acoustic and stand-up bass. Fourteen songs later, I was hooked and “Harlan Man” becomes the song of the summer. I knew all about Earle. Time to find out about the Del McCoury Band. I start with Cold Hard Facts and work backwards through the Rounder releases, getting somewhat of an Ivy League education in bluegrass.
Senior year at Appalachian State University, the band drops by Farthing Auditorium on campus to play a hot Saturday night set. Taking my third row seat, and shaking my head in dismay at the sparse crowd, I jam out throughout their set, yelling particularly loudly for “Nashville Cats” and taking delight in seeing them in person for the first time. Afterwards, I meet them in the lobby and get my copy of The Family signed by all five members. Striking up a conversation with Ronnie McCoury I mention my enthusiasm for The Mountain and ask if they planned further collaborations with Earle. Unbeknownst to me at the time, Del and Steve had experienced a minor falling out over Steve’s often crude language and mannerisms and the chances of them working together again were slim. Nevertheless, Ronnie offered that they had just hung out at the Grammys and that he was going to see Steve out on tour soon. Awesome! I had just gotten some inside info from Ronnie himself. I linger around a bit longer, and then join my friends at the bar, raving about the show I had just seen.
Struggling through one of my initial teaching positions in small-town Wilson, North Carolina, I anxiously look forward to the band’s show at Wilson’s tony and recently renovated Boykin Center Theatre. Again, taking a seat in the third row, I revel in the fact that these guys seemed to know where I was at all times and when I needed some of their music in my life. I didn’t even have to drive to Raleigh or Chapel Hill. How many times did any recording artists stop in Wilson, let alone legends like the Del McCoury Band? Once again, I stop by to say hey at the customary post show meet-and-greet and with my copy of the new album It’s Just the Night ready to be signed and throw in a little shout-out to Jason Carter for his stellar fiddle work.
Comfortably living back in Raleigh and in the midst of a burgeoning love affair, I took Margaret downtown to see Del and the boys at the Progress Energy Center. She was a new hand at this bluegrass thing and what better way to indoctrinate her. I told her she would be spoiled by seeing the very best on her initial live bluegrass show. It was also one of the first shows we attended together. I was pretty confident she would have a great time, but you never know. Bluegrass is not everyone’s cup of tea. Nearly three hours and two sets later, she was convinced. The boys had won her over and we share these facts with Del out in the lobby along with all the other die-hards. Later this year, Margaret and I are getting married. Del tunes are incorporated into the reception playlist.
Down in New Orleans for my friend Kyle’s bachelor party and taking in a weekend of Jazz Fest at the Fairgrounds. Tucked away on the Fais Do-Do Stage in the late afternoon and in between sets by the Drive-By Truckers and Spoon, the Del McCoury Band pops up again and sweat out a sweet and heartfelt set punctuated with some local flair provided by Preservation Hall Jazz Band’s Ben Jaffe’s loping tuba. While a few of us were already huge fans, we convert the rest in our crew that day and even get them to finish watching and miss the beginning of the highly anticipated Spoon. I think it was “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” that did it. Impossible not to be crushed by that tune.
There is my life with the Del McCoury Band so far, and soon to be added to as they have just announced a date back here in Raleigh next month. Occasionally, I pass a car that has one of those oval shaped black-and-white stickers with three letters in their back window that spells “DMB”. Of course, that stands for Dave Matthews Band. Not to knock on Dave, who has a fine band and is all right in my book, but if the music industry were a just society, that “DMB” would stand for Del McCoury Band.