Review | DelFest | Cumberland
DelFest :: 5.22.14 -5.25.14 :: Allegany County Fairgrounds :: Cumberland, MD
Nestled in the foothills of the Allegheny Mountains is the stunning County Speedway, home to little league games, local picnics and fairs, and the annual McCoury Family Reunion known as DelFest. In its seventh year, the legendary bluegrass player Del McCoury and his ever-growing dynasty of talented musicians curated another impressive event featuring bands from all ranges of bluegrass and folk music. In the spirit of a true family event, fans came expecting plenty of sit-ins from the Travelin’ McCourys and of course Del himself, and he certainly delivered many times over.
Against a backdrop of a perfect slice of earth, Del took the stage first on Thursday for an open sound check with the band. As most of his sets came to be, this was an all-request hour where fans shouted favorite songs that Del went ahead and played. When The Devil Makes Three came on, the sun was setting behind the trees and the fans were still filing in, drawn by the raw bluesy sound. Closing the first night was Greensky Bluegrass, whose heavy-hitting sound electrified the crowd and set a joyful, energetic tone for the rest of the weekend.
On Friday, the first of many double performances began with the Shook Twins from Portland, a band fronted by two charismatic and soulful blondes with a folky, funny, and sometimes dramatic edge to their songs. Festival MC Joe Craven took his act a step further in his own set by including songs on instruments he invented, like the “panjo” and jawbone bass, each providing unique yet full sounds that he wove into fascinating songs.
Over at the indoor Music Hall, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades were rocking out their punk-style string music while the winners of the DelFest Open Artist Submission were having their moments in the spotlight on the smaller Potomac Stage. The newest arrangement of Yonder Mountain String Band was on that afternoon, and when Dave, Ben and Adam took to the stage, they invited legendary dobro player Jerry Douglas and John Frazier, a Colorado multi-instrumentalist hero, to join them for the set. All the Travelin’ McCourys came out for the last couple numbers, and though this won’t be the standard for YMSB, no one could really complain about the recent change in lineup after this set.
The first official Del McCoury Band show of the weekend was up next, and served as a perfect reminder of why Del is such an epic influence on the bluegrass scene. His vocals, his writing, his interpretation of songs outside his genre -they all blend for a musician who has earned his place in music history. Railroad Earth is another band that has made their mark, and they closed that second evening with a moving, wondrous set of folk jams. For some, the night didn’t end there, as the sold out late night shows featuring Cabinet and Greensky Bluegrass were just getting started in the Music Hall.
Though it has typically poured down rain in past years, Saturday was another gorgeous day by the Potomac River, which runs right through the festival grounds and provides relief for sun-kissed festival-goers. It was a moonshine morning with Cabinet kicking off the day at 11 a.m. on the second stage, lighting their strings on fire and making the crowd go wild. People came running back when they heard the jazzified sounds of The California Honeydrops, whose New Orleans influenced blues-soul mesmerized onlookers and thrilled them as the band paraded through the crowd. Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott were on the main stage, busting out one bluegrass classic after another, satisfying the wide range of fans at the show. The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band played their second set on the Potomac Stage and seemed to blow the crowd away with their monstrous, gritty, stomping songs.
After another request-fueled show by the Del McCoury Band, Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby with Kentucky Thunder played a surprisingly toned down set that nevertheless showcased both musicians’ years of experience and talent. Headlining the main stage Saturday was The Travelin’ McCourys, and tons of guests throughout the dirt-kicking set capped off with a few closing tunes featuring Jeff Austin and Bill Nershi. The late night shows started with a second performance from the Shook Twins, who did a very impressive a capella hip-hop medley and closed with another mystical set by Railroad Earth, and a second appearance from Jeff Austin.
The last day of DelFest was the hottest, making it perfect for relaxing in the covered Grandstand, admiring the music and scenery. The main stage opened early with wonderful Sunday morning gospel from The Gibson Brothers. Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn played later in the day, two banjos in harmony, delivering light and beautiful songs. Hot Rize followed them, a classic bluegrass band from Colorado who had a bit of a comedy routine to go along with their performance. The Del McCoury Band played one final set before genre-benders The String Cheese Incident brought the main stage to a close with a perfect mix of bluegrass infused funk-trance jams. In true DelFest style, SCI invited many other musicians to sit in with them, creating jams and sounds that may never be heard again. The California Honeydrops played again for the second-to-last show of the weekend, blowing late-nighters away who missed their morning set, and finally The Travelin’ McCourys brought it all home, almost struggling to come up with songs they hadn’t played already.
DelFest is a true family festival, from the crowd to the hosts, and though each year it grows larger and invites bigger bands, the spirit of the festival is embedded in those mountains, pours out of the big, starry sky each night, and stays with the fans as they head back to reality.
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