- - Monday, May 11, 2015


It’s easy to wonder if music festivals have gone too far.

You remember all of the previous years’ media reports about overdoses, deaths and injuries at an array of music events throughout the U.S. and beyond. It’s no surprise, then, that many music fans with families may shy away from attending.

One festival you haven’t read about in those reports — and may not in future years — is DelFest, held each Memorial Day weekend in Cumberland, Maryland.

“I brag about my dad and talk more about this more than he ever would,” said mandolinist Ronnie McCoury, son of bluegrass icon Del McCoury. “We always have a large crowd, but they are always very considerate. That’s a direct response to my dad.”

Del McCoury has a lot to brag about — he just never does. Instead the multi-Grammy Award-winning member of the Grand Ole Opry and International Bluegrass Hall of Fame marvels at the artistry of other musicians, starting with his former bandleader, Bill Monroe, and continuing through the dozens of artists who have played with Mr. McCoury at various events, including at DelFest.

But artists from Bruce Springsteen to Jon Fishman of Phish to the late Jerry Garcia have publicly and unabashedly called themselves fans of Mr. McCoury and touted his virtuosity.

Others credit him with changing their lives.

Consider Dierks Bentley, who told a Washington, D.C., crowd that he was on his way out of Nashville, and on to his then-disappointing music career, when he stopped to hear one final show at Music City’s legendary Station Inn.

“I walked in, and Del McCoury was playing,” said Mr. Bentley. “I was 19 years old, and that night changed by life.”

Although Mr. Bentley now has his own brand of international fame, he’s never stopped following or idolizing Mr. McCoury, who was a featured guest on the 2010 album “Up on the Ridge.”

Mr. McCoury, now 76, waves away such stories, saying only that he always learns something about music from listening to others. That’s why he has never mandated that DelFest invite only bluegrass artists.

This year’s DelFest — the eighth — includes performances by Old Crow Medicine Show, Jason Isbell, Trampled by Turtles, Railroad Earth and others.

“He has a real open-minded way about him that comes out in his music,” said Chris Eldridge of the Punch Brothers when I spoke to him after a past DelFest. “The Del McCoury Band is my favorite bluegrass band. Actually, I can speak for everyone in the Punch Brothers: [It’s] everyone’s favorite band. He is the gold standard of playing bluegrass.”

Vince Herman, co-founder of the band Leftover Salmon, which will again play DelFest this year, said Mr. McCoury’s artistry leads itself to sonic moments akin to shooting stars.

“I think Del and [gospel mandolinist] Doyle Lawson singing ‘Angel Man’ at the request of the crowd was unbelievable,” Mr. Herman told me in a chat for Relix magazine while recapping a past DelFest. “Fifty years from now, people will be talking about that as a definitive moment in music.”

if you go

WHAT: DelFest

WHERE: Allegany County Fairgrounds, 11400 Moss Ave., Cumberland, Md. 21502

WHEN: May 21-24

INFO: Tickets $40 to $1,425 by visiting www.delfest.com.


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