Words and pictures by Amber Marie
Nestled in the mountains in Cumberland, Maryland the 7th annual DelFest welcomed festival goers from Thursday, May 22nd through Sunday, May 25th. Eager festivilians started arriving in Cumberland and the surrounding towns Wednesday night in preparation to be the first in line at the box office on Thursday morning. The rainy weather gave way overnight and the Thursday morning sunshine sprinkled through big fluffy clouds along the mountainside. The small crowd started lining up outside the box office doors around seven in the morning, laughter and “DelYea’s” could be heard and to everyone’s delight the box office opened up about thirty minutes before it was scheduled too.
As folks received their wristbands they excitedly hurried back to their cars to make the fifteen minute ride from the box office to the Allegany County Fairgrounds, for DelFestivilians the delight of this ride is quite exuberant. The DelFest sign on the windy country highway clearly marks the beginning of good times. As you make the turn and start heading down the typically quite sleep country road the West Virginia mountainous cliffs begin to loom before you. Keeping in time with the box office the campgrounds also opened the gates early. The access into the campgrounds is easy and simple, as you pull up you show the attendee your wristband and parking sticker and you’re directed to park in the grassy fields surrounding the ballparks. The parking passes sold out quickly as well as the tickets for the late night shows. As folks began parking it is evident in the mid-morning hour that you’re surrounded by long time DelFestivilans by the quickness of how everyone makes their way from vehicles to the campgrounds to claim their favorite spots.
The hardworking Grammy award winning, Grand Ole Opry member, father, grandfather and host, Del McCoury would take the Grandstand Stage with his band later in the afternoon at five, giving people plenty of time to get settled into their campsites and explore the festival grounds.
Del McCoury Band sound check on the Grandstand Stage started at five with a big happy birthday welcome from the crowd to Del, who celebrates his 75th birthday this year. The banter back and forth with the crowd would continue as Del, with a giant grin, would ask what everyone wanted to hear since the sound check is a chance for them to explore songs they typically do not do during their sets. From songs about mountain tops to songs about Virginia the crowd’s smiles matched Del’s. Rob McCoury (banjo) did a tune from his new album that is scheduled to be released soon. They also covered a George Jones tune, “Ain’t no Change Left to Hold Me” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky”.
The Boston based bluegrass band, the Deadly Gentlemen took the stage after the Del McCoury Band and would cover tunes from their 3rd album, Roll Me, Tumble Me. Banjo innovator Greg Liszt of the Deadly Gents leads the band thru dives and twirls of a bluegrassy Lovin’ Spoonful sound. Following the Deadly Gentlemen on the Grandstand Stage was the Devil Makes Three (DM3) hailing from Brattleboro, VT. The bluegrass rockabilly raised a few of eyebrows from attendees who were in their silver years that were expecting to see more pickers but the bluegrass, old time music, country, folk, blues, jazz, ragtime, and rockabilly from front man guitarist Pete Bernhard, tenor banjo player Cooper McBean and upright bassist Lucia Turino set most of the crowd in motion. They rambled out their set with “Stranger”, “Beneath The Piano”, “The Bullet”, “All Hail”, “40 Days > Gracefully Facedown”, “Johnson Family”, “Hallelu”, “Statesboro Blues”, “Spinnin’ Like a Top”, “Graveyard”, “A Moment’s Rest”, “Old Number 7”, “For Good Again”, “Worse or Better”, “Aces and Twos”, “Black Irish”, “Do Wrong Right”, “Bangor Mash” and wrapped up with “Help Yourself.”
The headliner for Thursday night was Greensky Bluegrass. They lit up the night with “Working on a Building”, Worried about the Weather, Light Up or Leave Me Alone before welcoming Del McCoury to the stage for single mic configuration on “Beauty of My Dreams” and “I’ve Endured”. The last part of the set seemed to sink into more of jamgrass and they wrapped up their set with “Windshield > Wind Doves Cry”.
Toronto, Ontario based band The Unseen Strangers opened the festival on the Grandstand Stage on Friday, their traditional bluegrass music welcoming folks into the music meadow. The American roots music of the Dead Horses opened the Potomac Stage, singer/guitarist Sarah Vos’ voice filled the air as the unique new-age string band drove the melody. The Kitchen Dwellers played next to the Potomac stage inside the cool low lit music hall. The young bluegrass group combined different elements of jamband style with traditional grass. The Shook Twins took the Grandstage Stage following the Unseen Strangers, the identical twins who were born and raised in Idaho but now hail from Portland, Oregon blended Midwest sound with west coast sound to produce a unique harmony filtered thru a re-purposed telephone microphone that blended folk and roots music. While the twin’s claimed the Grandstand Stage over on the Potomac Stage “Party-Gras” band Mo’ Mojo moved the crowd with exuberant brass infusing Cajun and funk. The raw acoustic bluesy Americana music of Liz Frame & the Kickers could be seen in the Music Hall.
Joe Craven throughout the festival could be found wearing many hats from workshop host, to announcer for the Delfest Radio 90.1 FM to playing the main stage on Friday afternoon. His free style folk world and roots music was a welcome jam. His set included, Sitting on top of the World, Julie Ann, Tree Top Flyer and the Craven Story.
As the day progressed the stages were filled longer by bigger acts. Chris Jones and the Night Drivers hit the Potomac stage with traditional bluegrass. Chris’ smooth voice crooned over the crowd with a majestic backdrop of the Appalachians. Chris is also known for hosting Sirius XM’s Bluegrass Junction.
Wisconsin based Horseshoes and Hand Grenades was the second to last band to play the Music Hall on Friday. The quintet has an arsenal of Midwest progressive bluegrass jams. Rebecca Frazier and Hit and Run followed shortly after Horseshoes and Hand Grenades. Frazier is the first female artist to ever be on the cover of Flatpicking Guitar magazine and is noted to have played with some of Nashville, Tennessee’s greatest. Her husband, John Frazier, plays mandolin in her band and has also been seen recently playing with Yonder Mountain String Band.
Midafternoon on the Grandstand Stage was The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. The Big Damn Band’s set of fierceness was kicked off with “Train”, “Something for Nothing” followed by crowd favorite, “Easy Come Easy Go”. Rev introduced the next number, “Dirt”, as a tune written after overhearing someone at a local cafe discussing with disdain the lunch crowd who had come in from working and were covered in dirt. “Jump A Train”, “Clap Your Hands”, “Pot Roast And Kisses”, “Front Porch Trained”, “Devils Look Like Angels”, “Everything’s Raising”, “Can’t Judge a Book” and “Glory Glory” followed with as much ferociousness as the first few tunes.
The Deadly Gents played the Potomac as Yonder Mountain warmed their strings on the Grandstand Stage. Yonder’s set was a crowd highlight of the weekend, with sit-in dobro player Jerry Douglas and mandolin player John Frazier the band laid siege to the stage with special guests Del McCoury (guitar), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Robbie McCoury (banjo) and Jason Carter on Fiddle.
YMSB kicked off their set with “Casualty”, “Pockets” and “Little Lover” before Ben took vocals on “Pretty Daughter”, a Danny Barnes number which usually has recently departed band member Jeff Austin on vocals. “Pretty Daughter” segued into “Wheel Hoss” back into “Pretty Daughter”. Del McCoury came on stage for “On a Monday” and “Spanish Harlem”. YMSB banjoist Dave Johnston took lead vocals on “Black Sheep” followed by “Walkin Shoes”. The McCoury brothers and Jason Carter took the stage for “Kentucky Mandolin” which sequed into “Girlfriend is Better” and “Southern Flavor”. “Southern Flavor”, a Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys number was a great way to end their set.
Grammy award winning Jim Lauderdale closed out the Potomac set shortly after YMSB’s set wrapped up on the main stage. The sun started to sink and people hustled their way back to their campsites to grab extra layers for the coolness of the night and get ready for The Del McCoury Band to take the Grandstand stage.
The Del McCoury band hit the stage, Del on guitar and smiles kicked the night off with a short intro and “I Wonder Where You Are Tonight”. They kept up the old timey bluegrass with “Train 45”, “Count Me Out”, “Hang Your Head in Shame”, “Let An Old Racehorse Run”, “She Can’t Burn Me Now”, “Dusty Miller”, “Cabin On A Mountain”, “Rain and Snow”, “Big Blue Raindrops”, “Randy Lynn Rag”, “Nashville Cats”, “Smoking Gun”, “Lonesome Road Blues”, “Train Wreck of Emotion”, “Crying Heart Blues”, “Limehouse Blues”, “Some Old Day”, “Thanks A Lot”, “More Often Than Once in Awhile”, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”, “Cheek to Cheek With The Blues” and wrapped things up, appropriately, with “Farewell Blues”.
With only about thirty minutes between Del and Railroad Earth most people stayed in their spots and chatted about the days music. RRE would not disappoint them with their set of progressive rust-belt bluegrass. They started the night with “Seven Story Mountain”, which had the audience singing back to them. “When the Sun Gets in Your Blood”, “Dance Around Molly” slipped into “Dandelion Wine” and “Grandfather Mountain.” They also played “Monkey”, “The Hunting Song > Lacrimosa > Face with a Hole”. Elko’s slinky number ripped into “Chasin’ A Rainbow” with an encore of “Peace on Earth.”
The Friday night late night show sold out before DelFest opened its gates with Greensky Bluegrass and the Cabinet boys. The show started at 11:30 and lasted for about an hour with set in guests Ronnie McCoury and Railroad Earth’s fiddle player Tim Carbone. The late night set list consisted of “After Midnight”, “Don’t Lie”, “Walking the Dog”, “The Chain” and a “Del Yea Breakdown.”
Saturday was greeted with an early morning set from the Tuckahoe Ridge String Band on the Potomac Stage. The Spirit Family Reunion on the Grandstand Stage and back to the Potomac for the boys of Cabinet. Cabinet was another fan favorite at the festival, along with Rev Peyton’s Big Damn Band you would also hear bursts of enthusiasm over the rustic American Beauty-era and old-timey bluegrass of Cabinet. During the Cabinet set Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth set in on saxophone. If you wandered into the Music Hall Saturday morning you would have found yourself in the middle of a playshop hosted by Joe Craven where he could be found giving instructions on how to make a musical instrument from your soul. The Grandstand Stage around midday was host to Sierra Hull. Ms. Hull has played at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center, her amazing range of vocals as she plays the mandolin was a perfect set for the sunny afternoon.
The California Honeydrops opened on the Potomac about half way thru Sierra Hulls set. Once again Andy Goessling from Railroad Earth was a guest set-in on the Potomac stage only this time he could be found following front man for the California Honeydrops into the crowd with the rest of the band on a mini tour parade before getting back on the stage.
Chris Jones and The Night Drivers played their final set of the festival at the Music Hall and there was a short break before legendary Tim O’Brien and Darrel Scott kicked off their set on the Grandstand Stage. The Duhks followed by Rev Peyton wrapped up the sets on the Potomac stage while the Gibson Brothers followed by Jim Lauderdale saluted the Music Hall. While Breezy Peyton and the Rev warmed up the Potomac Stage the Carolina Chocolate Drops warmed the hearts of those at the Grandstand Stage. The traditional Appalachian sound of the Chocolate Drops filled the music meadow with people dancing and singing. Their set was kicked off with “Pretty Little Girl With The Blue Dress On”, “Sandy Boys”, “Country Girl”, banter about the origins of banjos, “Briggs”, “Oh My Little Darling”, “Please Don’t Let Me Love You”, “Buck Creek Girls”, “Goin Down the Road Feeling Bad”, “Water Boy”, “When I was a Cowboy”, “Ruby”, “Can’t Nobody Hide from God”, “Scottish Wedding”, “Hit Em Up Style”, “Old Cat Died”, “Red ’em John”.
The Del McCoury once again lit up the night for pre evening get down. Del gave a wink and a giggle as he drove the band into “Traveling Teardrop Blues”, “Blues Rollin’ In”, “Shuckin’ The Corn”, “Sweet Appalachia”, “Queen Anne’s Lace”, “Washington County”, “The Lights On the Hill”, “All Aboard”, “Blackjack County Chains”, “Bluegrass Breakdown”, “Kentucky Waltz”. Ricky Skaggs came out for a special guest appearance on “The Old Cross Roads” and “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome”. A short and sweet Streets of Baltimore was played before Jim Lauderdale stepped on the stage for “Slewfoot”. The McCourys finished the night with Eli Renfro “1952 Vincent Black Lightning”, “Working On A Building”, “Henry Walker”, “Orange Blossom Special” and encored with “It’s Just The Night”.
Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby with the Kentucky Thunder sandwiched nicely between McCoury sets. Bruce’s ability to add a new dimension to the old bluegrass numbers excited the crowd. The set was by far one of the top sets of the weekend. The combination of Grammy award winning Skaggs and Hornsby teamed with the Kentucky Thunder was only topped by the next act on the Grandstand Stage, the Travelin’ McCourys.
The Travelin McCourys set would be graced by several artists, Billy Nershi of the String Cheese Incident, Jeff Austin of the Jeff Austin Band, Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth and Kimber Ludiker. Southbound brought in the set with “Deeper Shade of Blue”, “Old Boy Still in the Game”, “No One Will Ever Know”, “Let’s Sing Our Song > guitar solo”, “Messed Up Just Right”, “Welcome to China”, “Blue Ridge Cabin Home”, “Lonesome”, “On’ry And Mean”, “Feudin’ Banjos”, “On the Lonesome Wind”, “The Shaker” a short introduction of Billy, Jeff and Tim for the last tunes on the Grandstand Stage of the evening.
Late night Saturday night was Railroad Earth with Shook Twins, the show sold out the day before.
The last day of the festival opened with the Gibson Brothers on the Grandstand. On the Potomac stage an acapella group, the T Sisters performed, their roots as songwriters steeped in family tradition. The Duhks once again performed only this time on the Grandstand Stage, their quirky Americana vocals were perfect as the gigantic American flag in the Grandstand lazily billowed in the midafternoon sun. Joe Craven hosted his final playshop in the Music Hall before the McCoury Family Jam and the Unseen Strangers and Sierra Hull wrapped up their final sets on the Potomac stage. Bela Fleck and wife Abigail Washburn had a special treat for everyone during their set, the husband and wife duo brought with them their bouncing baby boy, Juno, who lead the crowd in a “Simon Says” sort of frolic of hand claps and arm raises. Fleck talked Abigail into doing a Flectones number to everyone’s surprise and happiness. Hot Rize followed Fleck and Washburn on the Grandstand Stage. Someone in the crowd had mentioned these guys were a little more than bluegrass and they proved that remark to be every bit true. The old-timey bluegrassers did a couple of tunes before introducing themselves in different outfits and dressed with a lot of flair for some honkey tonk. The Kruger Brothers set was the last set at the Music Hall for the afternoon and Spirit Family Reunion bid the audience farewell on the Potomac stage for the weekend.
The Del McCoury Band hit the stage for their last performance at DelFest promptly on schedule. After a few songs Del introduced the family and had everyone come out on stage to thank the audience for making DelFest such a great festival. They covered “Radio Boogie”, “High on a Mountain Top”, “Train 45”, a Hazel Dickens tune “Won’t you Come Sing for Me”, “99 Years And One Dark Day”. Del took a break from singing tunes to also thank folks who have been assisting at DelFest for several years. The first round of applause went to Keven who runs the camp, Larry Kunkle for 20 years of folding tee-shirts, Ron Chittum and Doug McKenzie who helps with the RVs.
The organization of the festival is indeed something to praise, not only does DelFest offer an amazing line up with little overlapping there are also several workshops for both adults and children to participate in. The organizers made sure to include the kids of DelFest with activities such as Ash Street Puppet Works for workshops for painting and puppeteering for a parade on Sunday with the kids. They also had hula hooping, face painting and other arts and crafts as well as a day in the creek for a bug workshop.
The last two sets on the Grandstand for Sunday night were saved for the String Cheese Incident. The Cheese celebrates their 20th anniversary this year and also just released a new studio album. As Billy Nershi made his way on stage his excitement didn’t falter and he jumped up and down several times as the other member’s made their way on stage. They kicked off their set with one of the songs from their new release, “Song in my Head”. After a few short words they went into “Close Your Eyes” and segued into “Can’t Stop Now”. Joe Craven came out for “Smile” and Del McCoury made his way onto the stage for “Sittin’ on Top of the World”. Nershi gave Del a big birthday squeeze before Del wandered off the stage and they went into Beautiful. They brought the psychedelic jam with a massive “Land’s End” with Tim O’Brien and Nick Forster into “I know you Rider” with the addition of Jeff Austin. The special guests cleared the stage and the Cheese took it into a boogie of “Bumpin’ Reel” followed by a high energy “Miss Brown’s Teahouse” that segued into “Can’t Wait Another Day”. The Travelin’ McCourys came out for “Colorado Bluebird Sky” that was followed by “Sirens > This Must be the Place > Sine”. After a short encore break the Cheese came back out and finished with a solid “Bolly Munster”.
To close off the festival the Late Night show at the Music Hall was another sold out event for the The Travelin’ McCourys Bluegrass Ball with the California Honeydrops.
Monday morning as everyone gathered their belongings it was noticeable at how respectable of a festival crowd had been at the fairgrounds. As folks cleaned their camping sites and made their way to their cars full of smiles and good memories the rolls of laughter and “DelYeas” could still be heard as people gave squeezes and hugs with promises of seeing each other for DelFest 2015.