Reviewing concerts or projects by ‘legends’ or standard bearers in a field is always a treacherous thing. If you are negative, which is sometimes deserved, you’re accused of being unsympathetic or dismissive (After all, Mr. Critic, ‘Who are you to judge?’). If you’re positive, which is often deserved, you stand to be denigrated as pandering or a ‘fan’ (typed with an eye roll and sneer) and incapable of anything close to objectivity. Having said that, here goes…
Bluegrass music has many colors/flavors these days. Most anyone can go to concerts or festivals and find a group(s) to claim as your favorite for a week or for life. I totally understand that a lot of first generation/traditional Bluegrass music can be, shall we say, an acquired taste (I resisted much of it for years, myself). Having said that, nowhere will you find a group of more talented, joyous musicians than the Del McCoury Band. They are consummate professionals in both demeanor and musical presentation. David Grisman’s body of work stands as a very loud testimonial to his high level of quality and importance in several genres as well. Putting the two together made for a wonderful show last week at the Alys Stephens Center on the Univ. of Alabama in Birmingham campus.
Considering this was an October Friday night in Alabama, the crowd was pretty strong. The hall was about two thirds full, but very enthusiastic. Several whoops and hollers when Jason Carter, Rob or Ronnie McCoury played a hot break or Del hit a long high note. The audience seemed particularly keyed to Ronnie’s playing. Perhaps with two of the greatest mandolin players on stage, a lot of mando pickers showed up in the audience.
The concert played out in three sections of roughly thirty minutes each. The first was the McCoury Band, the second was Del and David in duet and the last was all hands on deck (Setlist below). Most of the songs in the first two segments were out of the ‘greatest hits’ of each and the last was largely standards of the genre plus some more modern instrumental songs.
The pace of the songs and the pace of the show were equally brisk. In fact, the bittersweet reality is that the 90 minutes we spent together seemed closer to the 45-60 range. Interspersed in the music, especially in the second set, were stories and banter between Del, Dawg and the audience. The artists’ good nature and humorous tales were well received and met with hearty laughter.
The highlights of the night for me:
- Finally hearing 1952 Vincent Black Lightning in person
- David Grisman and Ronnie McCoury sharing breaks and perfectly dovetailing each other’s phrases
- Of all songs to stand out in my mind, the version of the Jimmy Martin classic Sophronie was perfect
If I could sum it all up in one word, it would like be gracious. In terms of the relationship between those on the stage and those in the seats during the show and at the merchandise table afterwards, there was graciousness in both directions. In terms of the music played, there was graciousness regarding the amount, the approach and the mix of old and new. It was a bit of graciousness that I was able to be a part of it as well. For all that, I’m thankful.
Del McCoury- Lead vocals, guitar
Ronnie McCoury- Mandolin, harmony vocals
Rob McCoury- Banjo, harmony vocals
Jason Carter- Fiddle, harmony vocals
Alan Bartram- Bass, vocals
David Grisman- Mandolin, vocals
The Del McCoury Band
Travelin’ Teardrop Blues
Bluest Man In Town
Deeper Shade of Blue
Lee Highway Blues
Some Old Day
1952 Vincent Black Lightning
Cold Rain & Snow
Del & Dawg
East Virginia Blues
Shackles & Chains
G Run Blues
I’m My Own Grandpa
Man of Constant Sorrow
Long Journey Home/Gotta Travel On
We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore
Country Boy Rock & Roll
Del & Dawg
I’m Comin’ Back But I Don’t Know When
On & On