DelFest 5.22 - 5.23.14
Allegany County Fairgrounds
Words & Photos By Jon Irvin
For the past few years Memorial Day weekend has meant one thing to me, DelFest. What other way to kick off the summer than a reunion with friends and thousands of other fun loving bluegrass fans? The 7th annual DelFest was held once again at the picturesque Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, MD and the McCoury family couldn’t have been more excited to be in the middle of “our people.” The weekend would no doubt be filled with some of the best bluegrass bands as well as amazing collaborations all while celebrating Del McCoury's 75th birthday.
After a quick dinner it was finally time to check out some music. We entered the grandstand stage as The Deadly Gentlemen were halfway through their set. The somewhat pop sounding Deadly Gentlemen have an easy going feel to them, especially on the title track of their newest album “Roll Me, Tumble Me." Next up was The Devil Makes Three, whom I made a point to check out this year after only catching a glimpse of their set two years ago. The trio thrilled the early weekend crowd with a set filled with songs that brought out the darker side of bluegrass. The day was long and I was spent, I decided to skip Greensky Bluegrass, knowing they were playing late night on Friday.
As I was on my way to grab late night tickets, I heard some horrible rumors and came to find out they were true. Late night sold out. No Greensky for this guy. It seems like each festival I usually miss out on one band that I had planned on seeing, unfortunately this year Greensky Bluegrass was that band. After a quick lunch and rest I headed back to the Music Hall to check out a band I looked into before coming to DelFest. I always make sure to listen to each group on the lineup before I head to a festival and the band that caught my ear the most was Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. Yet another high energy and A+ set by a relative newcomer. At times they were peaceful, then when you least expected it, they quickly took you on a 100 mph train ride. The highlight of the entire set had to be their original song “Whiskey” that included a transition into a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Time,” only to come back and finish “Whiskey.” You could tell they were feeding off of the growing crowd and even made a comment that “good festivals attract good people.” So far my Friday was filled with some of the best new acts and now it was time to see a band that amazed me last year, The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band. With Reverend Peyton ripping guitar teamed with gritty washboard and hard drumming, his band is the epitome of power-grass. Most songs are played with a hint of anger that brings passion to the music which holds the attention of the masses.
Saturday started bright and early on the Potomac stage with Cabinet, who seemed to still be reeling from their late night show. A local Pennsylvania band that I have listened to many times, but had never had the chance to see live, drew possibly the largest crowd I have seen at the Potomac stage in the 4 years I have attended DelFest. Halfway through, the Railroad Earth sax player, Andy Goessling, was invited to join them on stage for the remainder of their performance. These fast pickin' boys turned a lot of heads over the weekend and by Saturday afternoon more “High on Pennsylvania Bluegrass” shirts were visible throughout the crowd. I stuck around for the next act which was another non-traditional genre blending band, The California Honeydrops. The Honeydrops brought a very soulful, early R & B sound to the stage with bluesy lyrics and raucous horns.
I had a little break in the action for some food and another dip in the Potomac to cool off before heading back to catch the Carolina Chocolate Drops. Another returning artist from last year, the Chocolate Drops brought their old ragtime-jugband songs to the Grandstand stage with an interesting mix including slave hymns and Scottish jigs. The Chocolate Drops were the perfect band to slow the tempo down and to get the crowd ready for a more laid back evening of bluegrass.
The host with the most and member of the Grand Ole Oprey, Del McCoury, was geared up to hit the stage for his third set of the weekend. Del and the boys are the epitome of traditional bluegrass and should be served as the main course for any fan new to the scene. Even at age 75, Del can still belt out the high notes and is as lively as ever on stage, sometimes seeming to have more fun than the festival goers.
Hands down this has been the best DelFest I've had the pleasure of attending. Not only was the music amazing, but the weather could not have been any better. After a peaceful and relaxing afternoon I took my last trip down to the music meadow. First up was the husband and wife banjo tandem of Bela Fleck & Abigail Washburn. Any fan of the banjo can’t miss an opportunity to see Bela play and especially not a chance to see a loving duet with the sweet sounding Washburn. Bela Fleck continues to amaze fans with his flawless style that's made him known to most as one of the best musicians on Earth. After some grub and one last trip around the merch stands it was time to see the fourth and final set from the Del McCoury Band. Their final appearance was just as fulfilling as the first three and ended up being a high point for me as they performed two of my favorites, “Nothin Special” and “Who Showed Who.”
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