Thursday, May 12, 2011

Del McCoury Band Review

On Wednesday, May 12 I strolled into Campbell Hall with absolute certainty that I would enjoy this performance. Taking the stage was bluegrass legend, Del McCoury and his faithful band, an ensemble who in the music industry inspire not only respect, but high praise from musicians of all genres. Having collaborated with heavy hitters like Steve Earle, Phish, and Elvis Costello, Del McCoury demonstrates that bluegrass isn't just for those with an acquired taste: it's about presence, passion, and the musical marriage of sound old and new. Listening to the Del McCoury Band was almost like a throwback to the Carter Family: after 50 years of playing, Del McCoury has certainly made his performances a family affair. With his kind and loving sharing of the stage, he incorporated his band through the recognition of his son, Ron McCoury, playing the mandolin, his other son Rob McCoury on the banjo, and his other bandmates, fiddler Jason Carter and bass player Alan Batram. Del McCoury warmly engaged with the audience, taking requests and recounting old stories ranging from his early childhood love of Earl Scruggs to past festival interactions with Richard Thompson. Del McCoury's charm was completely enchanting and comfortable: soft spoken with a wide grin, his "aw shucks" attitude perfectly complemented the ol' time sound of Americana lore. Conjuring images of wide open land, unrequited small town love, and rugged Southern mountain living, bluegrass can be at times a mesmerizing combination of both lonesome and enlivening sound, with its roots heavily embedded in the collective American unconscious. It's the soundtrack to the mines, to the family, to the pastoral, and to the golden ages of simple yearning for pure heart and soul. My favorite moment of the performance was when bass player Alan Batram hesitatingly took the mic to sing "Sweet Appalachia." His smooth and effortless voice and style took the audience completely by surprise as he crooned his way through this timeless classic. The performance in its entirety was much like Batram's solo moment: it was a showcase of everyone's immense talent and musical dexterity infused with an easy collaborative relationship of familiarity and friendship. It wasn't a time for them to put on airs (which, with their talent, would have been understandable). It was a time to play what they love with the people they love the most. And perhaps that's why McCoury is still playing to large audiences after half a century: genuine passion, a reverence for the genre, and an endearing and humble disposition to boot. And hey, I'm sure his prodigious guitar playing probably doesn't hurt either.

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