Delfest 2012: Saturday & Sunday

Cumberland, Maryland
May 24th – 27th

Words & Photos by Jon Irvin

-Saturday May 26th-

Last year we got a chance to take the kids to downtown Cumberland to see the Western Maryland Scenic Railroads steam engine, unfortunately… and fortunately there was too much music to see that a trip downtown was out of the question. Luckily the Maryland & West Virginia Model Railroad Association is located on the fairgrounds and they exhibit a massive model train layout. After taking the kids to see the model trains, it was time to set up camp in the main grandstand field for an afternoon of great music.

The day started off perfectly with a set from Greensky Bluegrass. I’ve really started to appreciate their style of playing. Songs like “Chances on a Train” and “Dustbowl Overtures” showcases their in-depth playing and solos which make it easy to close your eyes and escape into the music. I had followed their online fan voting contest for which song they would introduce in todays set, personally I voted for Coolio’s “Gangster Paradise”, but ultimately Phish’s “Water In The Sky” won and was performed onstage with Ronnie McCoury on the mandolin.

I had been looking forward to the next set all week. I’ve seen Keller Williams several times, all in different settings including solo, the WMDs, and with the Rex Jam at All Good but this year Keller was touring with the Travelin McCourys. I had always been a fan of his material with the Keels so I knew Keller could play bluegrass with the best of them. The show started off with some small technical difficulties that only Keller could blow off easily as he played air guitar…

With power finally restored to his guitar, Keller joined the rest of the Travelin McCourys for a set filled with Keller material, covers, as well as songs from their upcoming album Pick due to come out next month. These guys could have played the entire day away and noone would have cared. The afternoon featured a laid back slower take of “Freaker by the Speaker” as well a bluegrass cover of Foster the People's “Pumped up Kicks” that had the crowd singing right along. What I enjoyed most about the set is what the Travelin McCourys brought to the stage; Keller was supplemented perfectly by some of the best bluegrass that the scene has to offer. Their song “Something Different” proved to be the perfect mesh as Alan Bartram laid the bass line down with Jason Carter’s fluttering fiddle floating in and out and a dash of twangy vocals supplied by Ronnie McCoury. My only wish was for a longer set because seventy five minutes was not nearly enough time.

As I prepared for the Emmitt Nershi Band, one of the well known Delfest storms had started to blow in. I knew I would be seeing them tomorrow afternoon so I took shelter from the rain back at camp. Ultimately the rain forced me to miss Keller's solo set, but that didn’t worry me much for it’s a show I have seen before. The wet wether is always expected at Delfest so the rain didn’t seem to dampen the spirits of most festival goers. Luckily as a hole, the weather was a lot better than the previous two years, and you could hear many people blow off the rain with a simple “I’ve seen worse” response.

I took a quick spin around the grounds to grab some grub and tried to catch some of Darol Anger & The Furies set at the Potomac Stage. Not only does Delfest offer some of the best bluegrass but this year it seemed to offer a plethora of talented women musicians as The Furies fit the bill as such. Darol Anger is a sight to be seen on the fiddle, as a founding member of the David Grisman Quartet, he has learned to master his art over the years. I didn’t spend too much time at their set but what I saw was enjoyable.

After dinner we were ready to find a spot back in the grandstand stage main field for an evening with The Del McCoury Band and Leftover Salmon. Del and the Boys put on a very traditional bluegrass set joined onstage most of the night by Doyle Lawson. Looking at Del McCoury you wouldn’t expect to hear such a strong powerful voice, as he sang the classics including “Rolling In My Sweet Babys Arms”. With a festival filled with all kinds from the grass genre the Del McCoury Band always brings us back to its roots as they bridge the gaps of time as well as recruiting new fans to the bluegrass scene.

Leftover Salmon Live at DelFest - Allegany County Fairgrounds on May 26, 2012.

The night ended with a set from Leftover Salmon. I’ve never been a huge fan but I was curious to see how banjoist Andy Thorn would add to their current lineup. Leftover Salmon has almost a country rock n roll feel to them which was a slight breath of fresh air. I enjoyed everything I saw from these guys including Andy Thorns mastery on “Aquatic Hitchhiker”. I left the set feeling that I had done a disservice to myself by not becoming more knowledgeable of these guys… it looks like I have a lot to catch up on.

-Sunday May 27th-

After breakfast and a nice morning walk, I was ready to start my busy day of music with a set from the Emmitt-Nershi Band. Their set started with a great cover of the Beatles song “One after 909”, which would have made John and Paul proud. The Emmitt-Nershi Band sports an amazing lineup; with Drew Emmitt on mandolin, Billy Nershi on acoustic guitar, Johnny Grubb on bass, and once again Andy Thorn on banjo. I can not speak anymore highly about the playing ability of Thorn; he has quickly caught the attention of the entire bluegrass community and should be a fixture for many years to come.

I skipped out on the end of the Emmitt-Nershi set so I could get front and center for the Infamous Stringdusters grandstand set. Now this next block of time would prove to be very difficult. Not only did I want to check out the Stringdusters, but Bela Fleck was also playing with Marcus Roberts Trio inside the Del Music Hall, as well as another talented female Sara Watkins was performing on the Potomac Stage. Obviously it was impossible for me to be three places at once so I had some running around to do.

Another one of my newer favorite bluegrass bands, The Infamous Stringdusters have continued to gain steam on the circuit. It’s hard to take your eyes off stage left at a Stringdusters show as Andy Hall (dobro) and Chris Pandolfi (banjo) play off each other so well. I was glad I got to catch them singing my favorite song of their's “In Gods Country” as well as a solid “The Hitchhiker”. It’s a shame I had to miss out on the rest of their set but I had to scurry over to see what Bela was getting into inside the Music Hall.

I entered the rear of the Del Music Hall to find it already jammed pack, mostly with people trying to escape the heat and humidity. I like the idea of having an indoor venue but when the Music Hall gets filled there is absolutely zero room to maneuver. Immediately I regretted my plan and should have been here first so I could get a better vantage point. Bela was already onstage with the Marcus Roberts Trio playing as I took a seat along the back wall of the building. Bela and his banjo added a perfect mix to some of the best jazz I have ever seen. This set deserved to be outside for all to see and I felt putting them inside did little justice to the wonderful sounds that came from the quartet. I’m usually not a claustrophobic person but I have to admit the Music Hall was just way over packed for comfort. I left a tad disappointed but still had time to catch the last few minutes of the Sara Watkins set.

Watkins, one of the founding members of the now defunct Nickel Creek, was finishing up on the Potomac Stage as I walked back from the Music Hall. Luckily I got to hear her sing a few songs. Not only can she fiddle with the best but her angelic voice sets the crowd at ease as they sway to the music. I was glad to see that this years Delfest had offered some of the better women in the bluegrass business and Sara Watkins was a perfect addition.

As I walked back to the Kid Zone, I met up with the wife and kids who looked like they needed to cool off. All weekend we had watched festival goers walk by us with inner tubes, rafts, and other floatation devices on their way to the Potomac River located just beyond the Allegany Fairgrounds and now was the time for us to check it out. Even though it felt great to cool down… this is not a river. I come from an area that sports wonderful creeks and rivers; the Potomac is not one of them. After cooling down the family, we went back for some dinner and prepared for the evening.

Luckily I had another chance to check out Bela Fleck, this time on the grandstand with his Bluegrass All-stars consisting of; The Travelin McCourys along with Danny Paisley. What can I say? Some of the tightest playing all weekend could be heard from this group of talented musicians. Bela even graced us with his vocal chords, something I have never seen him do in all the years I’ve seen him live. As their picking got better the clouds got darker, unfortunately Mother Nature had other plans for the evening. Another one of Delfest's tremendous storms was about to kick up.

As the PA announced that all should take cover, I began to wonder if the rest of the night would be a wash. Fortunately the storm broke just as Steve Martin & The Steep Canyon Rangers were about to take the stage.

I was left in admiration as I stood less than 10 feet away from the legendary Steve Martin. Now I knew he played banjo but I always thought it was just another shtick in his unforgettable career. Boy was I wrong. Not only did he have the crowd in stitches with some of his classic jokes and one liners, but he left the audience in awe with how talented of a musician he actually was. Let’s not forget the Steep Canyon Rangers for they are no slouches in the world of bluegrass. Their set was easily the most memorable of the day and I thanked god that the storm broke in time for us to witness such a magical set.

The 5th Annual Delfest was definitely a five star affair indeed. The lineup was better, the food was better, and of course the weather was in fact better than years past. Delfest has quickly made its presence felt as a premier bluegrass festival. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who allowed me to cover this amazing festival. You have a lifetime friend in me. I hope to see all of you at next years Delfest!

Jon's Photo Gallery


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