The 2nd Annual Bluegrass Ball
The Travelin’ McCourys w/ Billy Nershi & Jeff Austin
(with The New Old Cavalry & White Lightning Boys)
The Bluebird Nightclub
January 20, 2012
AsÂ anÂ icy mixture fell from the sky, coating the town of Bloomington, Indiana and turning it into a twinkling ice covered wonderland, the folks at The Bluebird transformed the venue intoÂ its own wonderland for theÂ 2ndÂ annual Bluegrass Ball — a night of continuous music — hosted by the Travelin’ McCourys and friends Jeff Austin (Yonder Mountain String Band),Â Billy Nershi (Emmitt-Nershi Band & The String Cheese Incident) andÂ opening acts: White Lightning Boys and The New Old Cavalry.
The normal vibe of The Bluebird had been electrified, the twinkling iciness from outside was met head on by the twinkling lights that hung from the ceiling of the normally dark venue — Â giving a feeling of being instantly tucked away into a late night private set at Horning’s Hideout.
The White Lightning Boys opened the evening,Â their pickingÂ breathing its own life into aÂ unique blend of traditional and original bluegrass straight from the hills ofÂ the neighboring Indiana county that also is the home for the Bill Monroe Music Park. As the White Lightning Boys’Â set ended, the front of the venue began to bustle as The New Old Cavalry filled the venue once again with American roots music.
Everyone had been primed, the salt had been thrown and as the Cavalry fired its final shot, The Travelin’ McCourys made their way onto the venue’s main stageÂ — on every other night, it’s only stage — and opened with a stellar rendition ofÂ Del McCoury’s, “Quicksburg Rendezvous.”Â With that, Ronnie McCoury on the mandolin alongside brother and banjoist, Rob McCoury, and band mates Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass) sunk the night into overdrive.
As the night progressed, so did the foot stomping and twirling, and as planned, SCI’s Billy Nershi joined the ensemble for “Smokey Mountain Memories.” The picking continued into (not the Elvis Presley rendition of) “Devil in Disguise,” and a fan requested tune, “Delia.” Following in his legendary father’s footsteps, Ronnie took some time to engage the crowd with a little back and forth conversation, at one point, gesturing to several couples and asking them if the fellers would marry the ladies they were with. This element of showmanship and downright genuineness is something that never fails to create for an environment where one could see himself just as easily standing around a campfire with these musicians as he can looking up to them on stage.
After a short break, the second set opened up with a nine minute round of dueling mandolin players between the aforementioned McCoury and YMSB’s Jeff Austin, who battled over leads in the Yonder number, “Snow on the Pines,” before their comrades (including Nershi) rejoined the stage for a ripping rendition of Â the Danny Barnes number, “Pretty Daughter” that gave Austin a trip on lead vocals.
Following a Nershi led “Heart of Saturday Night,” the lead was passed back to The Mccourys for a haunting, “Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” who maintained their pole position with another tradition number, “On the Lonesome Wind,” the harmonies of vocal and strings ringing brilliantly through the Bluebird — proving once again how the blending of these three elements of the bluegrass genre under one roof on one stage was brilliant.
Following the traditional style of The McCourys, Austin’s ability to rage a mandolin like a madman on a murdering spree took front and center as the night was heatedÂ nicely with “Five Hundred Miles” and Nershi subsequently kept things on an equable groove with his beloved brand of Cheese-psychedelia infused grass and the dearly loved number, “Jellyfish.”
The McCourys took things back with, “Rocky Road Blues,” into “Raleigh and Spencer” into “Think of What You’ve Done” before closing out the night with a change in the setlist that was all too befitting for the treacherously icy road conditions that awaited the Ball patrons, “Death Trip.”
The ball wrapped up with the New Old Cavalry playing to folks as they made their way to the icy streets, providing nightcap for one of the best nights of bluegrass that one could hope for.
Download an audience recording of this show here.
The Travelin’ McCourys with Jeff Austin & Billy Nershi – “Pretty Daughter” (Danny Barnes)
Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the show by Amber Jennings…
(Scroll down for the gallery from Aaron Lingenfelter)
Click the thumbnail(s) to view more photos from the show by Aaron Lingenfelter…