DelFest: Thursday 5.22.14 & Friday 5.23.14


Allegany County Fairgrounds
Cumberland, MD

Words By Parker Otwell Roe (The Lot Scene)
Photos By Will Rawls (The Lot Scene)



I figured it would be a great idea to throw on String Cheese’s new album for the background when I sat down to write my reviews yesterday morning seeing as how the SCI boys were ablaze with musical magic last Sunday night. Halfway through “Colorado Bluebird Sky” I found my thoughts drifting back to how astonishingly ideal everything lined up that evening. My heart swelling in my chest and beating faster as the joy remembered flooded my veins forcing a happy flood of tears down my cheeks in response to such nostalgic regalia. And then I began to type my first review of DelFest… and it goes a little something like this:

“DelFest? Del YEAH!”

As I boarded my eastbound plane in Denver I was filled with a swirling wash of emotions: excitement, anxiety, joy, and a bit of sorrow at leaving my wife and family behind, but also an ever-building anticipation of a weekend of wonderment and musical wizardry away in the west of Maryland. I was headed to my very first DelFest and I was beside myself with unrequited bluegrass joys, but they wouldn’t be unrequited for much longer. After a brief stop in Northern Virginia to rendezvous with my Lot Scene cohorts for the weekend (Will Rawls was with me taking magnificent shots throughout) we headed westward towards Cumberland, MD, the annual home of DelFest. This year marked the 7th fest, so, here's to Lucky Number Seven!

Thursday:

Getting to Cumberland, MD, and to the DelFest site specifically, really couldn’t be much easier. The site lies not too far off the interstate helping to negate those annoying one-lane-road back-ups we all have come to loathe from other fests over the years. I found the in-processing scheme to be very smart and really efficient by having it off site at the nearby college. Running in a very well-organized manner, the whole thing went maybe as smoothly as that process has ever gone for me at a festival. The DelFest campgrounds are well-enough organized, plentiful, and beautiful with lots of different kinds of sites to vie for — down by the river, deluxe RV, near the gazebo (a popular late night pickin’ party location), et al. We found the staff very helpful and relaxed making for a simple and pleasant arrival experience. The nearby Potomac River has carved some lovely cliffs staring out from the green wooded mountains adjacent — what a perfect place to absorb the magnificence that is quality bluegrass music. Additionally, DelFest runs a radio station for the duration of the fest so you can catch the Grandstand acts in your campground or on the go, a service you will most certainly appreciate.

I was impressed to see that some food vendors were already serving by 2:00 PM which certainly made for a delicious and effortless lunch equating to good campsite set-up fuel. And, while on the subject of festy food, let me say that the offerings at DelFest are affordable and delicious with tons of variety and late night availability. Special dietary needs folks (such as vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free) can find some pretty delicious options as well (I’d recommend the falafel plate, the veggie tacos, and the pizza…oh, gods, the pizza!). The three venues, Grandstand, Potomac Stage, and Music Hall, were all excellent for their sizes and layouts. All proved excellent places for live grass music throughout the weekend. Cell phone service for At&T seemed to be the best with reports of Verizon and Sprint not doing so hot.

Lastly, DelFest is truly a family festival, which is a wonderful thing. Del has his family there…in his band, working the fest, in the crowd, on the stage, etc. Lots of families bring their children combining their wonderful, youthful innocent energy into the festival mixture which can be such an incredible addition. I think the idea of families gathering in the Music Meadow beneath the giant US flag during Memorial Day Weekend has, at its core, one of the very fundamental aspects of DelFest that makes it so incredible and different from other similar fests: the bluegrass family as concept.

The Deadly Gentlemen - The classic sound of this new-to-me band’s instrumentation combined with music clearly influenced by many sources outside of the grass world was a perfect way to open up my DF experience. Boston-based and pumping for their entire set, this is a band I’d gladly see again and look forward to following. I really wish I’d had the opportunity to catch more of their set!

The Devil Makes Three - Words I would use to describe my time with this band that evening would be "spirited," "driving," and surprisingly "full-sounded" for this Vermont trio. I had the chance to catch them at Red Rocks a couple of years ago and I could definitely see how this band has matured in both style and stage presence, including the addition of a little Irish tenor fiddle on one tune. They were a great addition to the DelFest line-up and one that pleased.

Greensky Bluegrass - Typical of the few other times I have had the pleasure of seeing this band so far in 2014, this showing was no exception. To say they are on a sky rocket ride up the jam grass circuit would be a towering insult of an understatement. Arguably, they bring one of the most intense energies to the stage in the genre and they made sure the opening night of DelFest this year ended with a bang. It was most assuredly apparent in the loud and positive reaction of the crowd who greedily savored note after note. Joe Craven, the dapperly-dressed, dry humor peddling MC for the weekend, said of the band by way of introduction, "These guys used to be the best kept secret in modern string band music, now they're just the best!” And, you know, I’d have to very much agree with the clearly intelligent and astute Mr. Craven! The apex of the set was when, halfway through, Del McCoury himself came out to join the band on lead vocals for “Beauty of My Dreams” and “I’ve Endured,” both of them magic incarnate to be sure. Of course, I’d be criminally remiss if I did not mention the utter spiritual fusion and infusion of Prince and Greensky as the lads closed enfolding us in entrancing, mesmerizing joyous lunacy covering “When Doves Cry” like a blanket of the purest blissful bluegroove bad-assery.

Late Night Pickin’ Parties - Obviously one of the best aspects of DelFest overall is the insanely large amount of instruments you will find floating through the campsites late at night after the music has wrapped (or even throughout the day). Seeing as how many of the artists are camped in and around you as well as the sheer amount of festival goers who come armed, oftentimes with multiple instruments apiece, it is almost impossible to not stumble upon world-class pickin’ parties and jam sessions scattered right through the entire festival grounds. So, if you are thinking of coming to DelFest one year and play an instrument, make sure to bring your baby with you so you can join in — trust me, coming from experience, you won’t be getting much sleep during the hours of darkness as a result (but don’t worry… many of the sessions are around campfires to keep you warm throughout…not to mention a little friendly ‘shine sharin’).

Friday:

And then it was Friday morning and time for more music…oh no! Please don’t make me go back to the Music Meadow, Pappy Del!!! Heh heh. After availing myself of the pleasantness of the permanent bathrooms and complementary showers (nice!), I was ready to garb myself once again in my festy gear and get back to those shows! My first stop was the Potomac Stage to get some Mo’ Mojo in my life…

Mo’ Mojo - One of my stand out surprise new bands for sure! A rather interesting and deliciously non sequitur instrumentation yielded a vibrant, energetic sound and, at times, a charmingly complicated texture. I ended up having the brilliant fortune to hang with their sax player, Davidione Pearl, throughout the weekend and get to know the band’s ethos more thoroughly through him. A total gypsy to be sure…and one helluva a musician and showman, not to mention all-around cool cosmic cat. The band describe themselves as a “Party-Gras” band and they certainly brought the party with them to DelFest and then promptly shared it with us! Great music for kicking off your flops and dancing barefoot in the grass. Memories I won’t soon forget so try and find them around if you can…you’ll be very happy you did!

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades - I just happened to meet two of the lads from the band standing outside the Music Hall before their set not knowing they were part of the talent - I handed them a couple of commemorative The Lot Scene buttons we had made for the DelFest weekend which they dug and so they asked if I was coming to their afternoon set…told me who they were and I went…and I was blown away. What an unexpectedly great sound with a varied rep to boot…their cover of Pink Floyd’s “Breathe” was an absolute kick-to-the-ass.

The Reverend Peyton’s Big Damn Band - Went down to the Grandstand to check these guys out and was greeted with a blues-infused Americana grass detonation. My first brush with the good Reverend, I can really only describe what I saw as: crazy ass sound, crazy ass cats, and crazy ass everything with this band. But all in such a good way. Keep and eye out for this name and go see the good crazy for yourself!

Yonder Mountain String Band - I might as well address the 800 pound bluegrass gorilla in the room first — the question on everyone’s mind: with Jeff Austin slated to be at DelFest as an artist-at-large, how would Yonder sound without him, what kind of set would they perform, and would they crush it? Well, they certainly crushed it, getting more than by with a little help from their friends. Many of us thought it was a smart move bringing out Jerry Douglas on dobro and John Frazier (FrazierBand) on mando and fiddle, even though, at times it seemed more akin to a Bluegrass Superjam instead of a YMSB show. The powerhouse sound from five stellar grassers such as this lineup really helped solidify in fans and other people’s mind that Yonder still has a future, and a bright one at that, even though obvious questions remain now that Jeff Austin has moved onto other projects. After we all settled into this different sound for the night, we relaxed in the cool dark air under the blanket of stars and got our (new) Yonder on good and proper. Once you added Rob McCoury, Ronnie McCoury, Jason Carter (The Travelin’ McCourys), and then Mr. McCoury, dressed down in starched jeans and a sport coat, to the mix the night exploded into a wall of pure bluegrass wonder. Needless to say we all left satiated, satisfied, and smiling like the good Del himself.

**I had written the above earlier this week before I really had time to analyze and synthesize the weekend experience to deeper and broader degrees, especially in conversation with my friends. Many of my people have been YMSB fans for much longer than I and have seen the band a vastly larger amount of times… as such, I feel the insight and perspective of informed opinion they offer below to be well-stated and of much value to the YMSB fan, both past and present. We strive at The Lot Scene to give you as close a feel to the experiences we attend in order to get you and your mind as infused with what went down as humanly possible. While seemingly critical in some ways, the candor and understanding found in the following statements falls directly in line with what we are trying to bring you:

“Yonder Mountain String Band has been one of my favorite bands for the last 10+ years, and while their set was one of my favorites of the weekend, it felt much more like an all-star bluegrass jam than a YMSB set.”

“Ben Kauffman has done an incredible job stepping up as band leader, and I still grin from ear to ear every time I see Ben and Alan Bartram playing a duet and trading off on the same standup bass (or bass fiddle, as Del would say). But beyond Ben, I found myself focusing entirely on the energy and musical brilliance of the guests on stage. Jerry Douglas, John Frazier, Del & Ronnie McCoury, Jason Carter, Alan Bartram... it doesn't get much better than that! But when you take them away, we are left with a shell of what YMSB used to be.”

“Can one person ever fill Jeff Austin's shoes in the band? I'm skeptical, but will reserve judgement until a permanent replacement is named. Until then, keep the guests coming, Ben!”

The Del McCoury Band - Del took to the stake like he was grandfather to the entire crowd assembled in the setting Friday sun. A crowd so big and vibrant that many veteran DelFesters remarked to me that it was more like a Saturday show than a Friday one, so I took that as a good sign. I was not to be disappointed. With his trademark smile spanning ear to ear he and his band wowed our hearts, souls, and minds with hit after hit after hit from their maniacally stupendous repertoire. Thank you Papa Del for creating this festival in the first place and continuing to throw down such powerful performances time and again — we are all so grateful for you and your music, kind sir!

Railroad Earth - Railroad Earth gave a fan-pleasing close to Friday’s main stage music offerings. Tim Carbone’s energy was very appreciated, as always, and the weather made for a perfect pairing for ballads under the cooling atmosphere. A very appropriate segue for campsite picking on the way to the Late Night show.

Late Night - Cabinet - Greensky Bluegrass - From my first exposure to the DelFest Late Night Show situation, I must say I didn’t really know what to expect. Located in the Music Hall where DelFest Academy and yoga classes take place during the day, at night the Center erupts into musical madness with festers working their way into the venue every way they know how. Once inside, you are treated to the most intimate bluegrass party on the planet in the dark and dusky night… Cabinet being there to get us ready for some Greensky to come. Greensky came out after the Cabinet boys took off and proceeded to melt faces and sway souls until the strike of 3:45AM Saturday morning. After Friday’s incredible showing, Saturday ensured that any DelFester who might have been unfamiliar with these Michigan lads would surely leave Cumberland new and outright fans of the band. And they’d be smart to do so. It's always great to see Greensky bassist Mike Devol and share a few words and pints with a good friend and his cohorts. One of the highlights of the evening was when we were standing with RRE fiddler Tim Carbone backstage as the Greensky boys tore it up and the crowd soaked in every riff and he remarked how DelFest patrons and fans are some of the most musically knowledgeable and experienced that he has ever encountered and how much of a pleasure it is to play for an audience like that. So, way to go DelFesters! That’s right… go ahead and give yourselves a big pat on the back from your Uncle Tim!

Will's Thursday & Friday Photo Gallery

www.delfest.com

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