The Del McCoury Band Live at The Sheldon Concert Hall
Walking into St. Louis’ Sheldon Concert Hall on the evening of March 12 2016 was like stepping into a time warp. Moving between the tall pillars that lined the building’s entrance and pulling open the large wooden doors instantly transported me into place I hadn’t been exposed to before. A place of simplicity that rarely shows itself in today’s hustling and bustling world.
The floors creaked beneath the building’s wildly patterned carpeting. Stained glass windows, displaying random specks of orange, blue, and yellow, lined the auditorium’s beige walls. Even the small wooden theater seats couldn’t be utilized without emitting a sound similar to that of a breaking tree branch. On this night, the Sheldon gave off an aura that made me feel like I was about to attend a concert in a decade that wasn’t 2016. Mike Dillion even said, “I love the Sheldon as a venue, and tonight it reminds me of a mini-Ryman”. The Ryman was an old church in Nashville and it was also the home to the Country and Bluegrass show, The Grand Ole Opry, in the 1920’s. Dillion’s statement only added to the nostalgia I was feeling about the venue.
On this particular evening, the accomplished bluegrass group, the Del McCoury Band, was set to take the stage, and with this band came an interesting mix of people. Most of the crowd looked to be very clean cut and over the age of 50 with a limited number of younger folks scattered about. I’m assuming the younger people were familiar with Del McCoury due to his heavy appearance at festivals like Bonnaroo, Wakarusa, and Gathering of the Vibes.
Before the show was set to begin, all that could be heard was the creak of the floor and seats, the muffled sound of individual conversations, and faint bits of Bill Monroe’s album Bean Blossom playing over the Sheldon’s PA system. All of this continued until the lights dimmed.
The conversations and music immediately stopped, and the audience erupted in a roar that you would have thought was coming from a venue 5 times the size of the Sheldon. Del McCoury and his band, clad in their signature gray suits, appeared on stage. With that came sounds reminiscent of thunder, as everyone’s seats creaked in unison when they got up to give the Del McCoury Band a standing ovation. Then there was silence. Everyone in the auditorium was locked in on the band as they tuned their instruments to see what their next move would be. It was so quiet, one could even hear the light thumping of rain against the stained glass windows.
After a couple of minutes, the music started up, and the night was filled with banjo picking that rolled like hills of Kentucky, a mandolin that ticked like a clock, and a fiddle with so much reverberation that the notes it created seemed to linger in the air for a minutes. Nikki Richards went as far as to say, “I could hear every note of every song because of the crazy good acoustics”.
After the show drew to a close, concert attendees felt a lot of different things toward the venue and performance. “It was an awesome experience to be in such an intimate setting with these extremely talented musicians,” said Katie Lou. Other people were simply floored by the amount of time the Del McCoury Band spent on stage. “I was impressed that Del played for two whole hours,” said Brad Klindworth.
For me though, as I watched dust hover beneath the stage lights, I felt as if I was in a different time period. Del and his band crowded around just four microphones. They used no other amplifiers and they simply allowed the acoustics of the room to shape their sound. I’d really only seen this sort of thing while scouring the web for old Grand Ole Opry episodes that contain performances from old musicians like Earl Scruggs, Doc Watson, and John Hartford. On that rainy Saturday night, the Del McCoury Band allowed me to experience a glimpse of Americana music’s past that I thought had faded away with time.