Words & Images by: Tony Stack
David Grisman Quintet & Del McCoury Band :: 03.07.08 :: Ogden Theatre :: Denver, CO
The Orange Blossom Special recently steamed into the Ogden Theatre pulling a double load of the Del McCoury Band and the David Grisman Quintet. While it may have been freezing outside, inside it felt like peak summer festival season.
If you had never seen the Del McCoury Band before, tonight's show would have been an excellent primer, as it contained a little of everything they are famous for: soaring familial harmonies, virtuoso instrumental performances and down home melodies. The band features Del's sons Ronnie and Rob on mandolin and banjo, respectively, Jason Carter on the fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass. While Del's name is on the marquee, this band is definitely a democracy with each member taking equal turns on the solitary microphone to sing and play throughout the set.
Although not much new ground was broken on this night, the band expertly worked through familiar numbers such as "1952 Black Vincent Lightning" and "Nashville Cats." "Get Down on Your Knees and Pray" elegantly showcased their trademark harmonies and also demonstrated the heavy gospel influence in the McCoury music. The set highlight was definitely their extended, closing song that featured Ronnie and Carter feverishly trading licks, prompting Del to interject, "Hurry up and finish, I got to go to the bathroom."
I can't figure out if pairing the David Grisman Quintet with the Del McCoury Band is a nice match or a maddening juxtaposition. As straight ahead and predictable as Del McCoury was, the DGQ was equally all over the map, changing musical styles so fast my head was spinning. They opened the show with some patented "Dawg Music," an up-tempo gypsy-swing often featuring Matt Eakle's flute chasing Grisman's mandolin lines from Paris to Buenos Aires and back again. Then, in classic Grisman fashion, the band veered into a vamp based on a James Brown groove, complete with bass player Jim Kerwin doing his best Godfather of Soul impression.
After that, the large Deadhead contingency was more than pleased to hear a rendition of "Dawg's Waltz" off the original Garcia/Grisman album. Subsequent songs such as "Tracy's Tune" and "16/16" gave further testament to the breadth and originality of Grisman's music. It was interesting to note that Denver native, Grant Gordy filled the guitarist seat instead of recent regular guitarists, Enrique Coria and Frank Vignola.
The set finished with a bang as Grisman took a rare lead vocal turn, singing the traditional "Shady Grove." The best was saved for last as the entire Del McCoury Band came out for a short but rousing show-ending jam that featured Grisman and Ronnie McCoury trading mandolin licks. This was a very satisfying evening that certainly whet my appetite for the summer sounds of Telluride Bluegrass Festival and RockyGrass. Hold on tight folks, festival season is just around the corner!
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