DelFest #12 Delebrates Del McCoury’s 80th

DelYeah!! DelFest Delights for the 12th year.

Thursday May 23rd kicked off the 12th annual DelFest celebration at the Allegany Fairgrounds. This year was extra special because it was a continuation of Del McCoury’s 80th birthday party though Del joked that he has been celebrating since February. One couldn’t ask for a more beautiful location for a music festival.

During the 4 day festival 30 bands played on three stages. There were first time DelFest bands and returning favorites. DelFest always has a number of local and up-and-coming bands that many attendees are hearing for the first time. Many of the performances featured special guests sitting in. Sam Bush was scheduled to attend but was unable to make it due to surgery so Ricky Skaggs filled in. Although DelFest is a “bluegrass” festival it isn’t limited to traditional bluegrass bands and music. According to Joe Craven, Del embraces the idea of bluegrass being a state of mind rather than a notion of correctness related to a genre. Ronnie McCoury said “We have a great lineup here for DelFest 12. DelFest is an inclusive festival. We have a little of everything here, we cover the whole spectrum and we want everyone to have a good time.”

The music kicked off Thursday afternoon with The Del McCoury Band “Soundcheck”.

This 16 song soundcheck was a great way to start DelFest 2019. Heaven McCoury sat in on guitar for the second half of the set. Following Del, Yonder Mountain String Band took the stage and their set featured a who’s who of DelFest musicians including Lindsay Lou, Larry Keel (guitar), Sierra Hull (mandolin), Jared Pool (mandolin), Ronnie McCoury (mandolin), Jason Carter (fiddle) and Alan Bartram (bass). This was followed by the evening headliners, The Marcus King Band who ended their 14 song set with “The Well” into “War Pigs” and Trampled By Turtles.

Late night in the Music Hall is a DelFest event that must be experienced. The sold out first night late night featured two killer sets from Billy Strings, (a first for DelFest - having the same artist perform 2 late night sets). The show featured extended jams and a great light show, The band and fans were still full of energy when two of the nights special guests Rob McCoury and Marcus King came out and jammed to “Running on Empty”.

Friday began with another DelFest first, a late morning Bloody Mary Bar in the Music Hall with entertainment by Wicked Sycamore, one of the five local acts to play this year. Cello-ist Madeline Waters, who was smiling all weekend said “I love DelFest so much. This is my 7th year coming to this festival and I know what I'm doing Memorial Day weekend every year. My calendar is planned because this is such a fun time. This is the first time that Wicked Sycamore has played at DelFest. We’ve been welcomed so openly by everyone and we are blessed to be here. Del Yeah!” Wicked Sycamore was one of the bands that enjoyed the jam sessions as well as the scheduled play time.

The bloody mary bar was new to DelFest and very well attended and featured the Frederick Maryland based McClintock Distillery and George’s Bloody Mary mixes.  Both were a recognized fan hit, sure to be repeated. During their morning set, Man About A Horse included a song that Eric Lee wrote for the occasion called “Another Bloody Mary Morning”. The music hall day continued with a workshop with Joe Craven & The Sometimers, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen and ended with The Kruger Brothers.

The Potomac Stage showcased the Academy band which led into the first time DelFest appearance for Bowman, Bowman & Dre’ and after a brief break Pixie and The Partygrass Boys warmed up the crowd for the DelFest her debut performance, Lindsay Lou. The final act on the Potomac Stage was the Kitchen Dwellers who were playing DelFest for the third time.

As always, it is impossible to listen to all of the music. While bands were playing at the two other stages, the Grandstand stage kicked off at noon with the Nashville based R&B/Funk/Fusion/Jam band The Broomestix with guests Billy Strings and Ronnie McCoury. Next on the Grandstand stage was Sierra Hull followed by Billy Strings.

By mid evening, The Del McCoury Band took the stage. Their 18 song set included several instrumentals with Ronnie and Robbie leading. The Kruger Brothers joined in for a few songs as well. Ronnie’s son Heaven McCoury returned to the main stage to play guitar on “Crying Heart Blues” and “Pig in a Pen.” Then, Friday night’s headliner, String Cheese Incident (SCI), followed with two sets. This was another guest filled show with non-stop guest sit-ins from Joe Craven, Ronnie and Robbie McCoury, Jason Carter, Alan Bartram and Del McCoury. During the second set Billy Strings came out to play with them. The big reveal of the evening was Strings telling us that this was not only his first time playing with SCI but his first time seeing them live.

Yonder Mountain String Band opened the Friday night late night. The second set was performed by Larry Keel Experience who also opened the Grandstand stage on Saturday. Saturday was another jam packed day, beginning in the Music Hall with Jakob’s Ferry Stragglers, followed by the Plate Scrapers, Joe Craven and The Sometimers set of Garcia Songbook. Darin & Brooke Aldridge also took the stage, showing that in spite of any shyness she mentioned during the earlier “Behind the Curtain” interview, Brooke can command and control a stage.

The Potomac Stage kicked off with Front Country. Next up was Frank Solivan & Dirty Kitchen, after which Sierra Hull and her husband Justin Moses took to the stage in the mid afternoon. Hull and Moses also participated in the DelFest Academy earlier in the week. She once again showed why she is a three-time IBMA Mandolin Player of the Year. Sierra has described the people involved with DelFest as one big family. Lindsay Lou then played her second set of the festival and closing the Potomac stage for the night was The Broomestix.

The main stage showcased The Larry Keel Experience; The Gibson Brothers & The Mockingbird Band. During the I’m With Her set Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan played original songs and also included "Carey" by Joni Mitchell. Saturday evening on the Grandstand Stage, Keller Williams and The Hillbenders played PettyGrass - a bluegrass version of Tom Petty songs. They were joined by Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter on “You Got Lucky.”

When Tyler Childers took to the main stage he told us that it is his first time at DelFest, though he was excited to be here because a friend who never missed a DelFest, ironically until this year has been telling him about it. He then dedicated his set to his absent friend.

It was raining when the Travelin’ McCourys took to the stage. They sang “Rain Please Go Away” and as if to show the power of Del was strong, the rain stopped soon after. “The Wind of Love” was dedicated to Kristen McBride who met her SO at a Travelin’ McCourys late night show 4 years ago. For the locals attending we were treated to “Cumberland Blues” “which could be about this very town, we just don’t know,” they said. They then finished with an encore of “Little Maggie” Both Del and Heaven played during the set.

Railroad Earth played an incredible late night set on Saturday. During “Elko” as is tradition, the playing cards were flying wildly at the line “I need a card, I need a card hit me lord, not too hard.” By the end of the show everyone was feeling “Like a Buddha”.  Joe Craven who was all over DelFest as both the MC and a musician playing until the early morning during the second late night set with Joe Craven and The Sometimers.

Serene Green opened the Music Hall stage on Sunday. This year, they were awarded the 2019 Dellie Award Best New Artist Winner. In addition to playing at the DelFest Academy and their set in the music hall, members of Serene Green could be found at jam sessions throughout the campsites. They were followed by Front Country who also played Saturday on the Potomac Stage. They got the crowd clapping along with their song "Keep Travelin.” Closing out the Music Hall was The Sounds of Laurel Canyon, hosted by The Gibson Brothers and the Mockingbird Band with Leigh Gibson, with Dré Anders,Sierra Hull, Ronnie and Garnet Bowman, and friends.

The Potomac stage featured three bands on Sunday. The Po’ Ramblin’ Boys opened at 1 PM. This Tennessee band has a stated mission to bring bluegrass to people who wouldn’t otherwise be exposed to it.

Darin and Brooke Aldridge moved outside for their Sunday set and continued seamlessly with the energy that they started on Saturday. The final act was the Santa Cruz, California-based quartet Marty O'Reilly & the Old Soul Orchestra.  The Grandstand Stage opened Sunday morning with Dre & The Gospel Collective. Joe Craven and The Sometimers followed for their last appearance at this years DelFest.

The Grammy Award winning band The SteelDrivers who have been playing for 10 years, took to the Grandstand Stage Sunday afternoon. During their 90 minute set they played old favorites and treated the crowd to a new song "Load The Gun.” Kelvin Damrell Jr. also played with the Travelin’ McCourys late night set. Following hem was the Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder’s set that included originals and covers from The Stanley Brothers, Bill Monroe and James Taylor.

It is only appropriate that at a festival where people say DelYeah, take Delfies all day and greet each other with Delbows the weather would want to join in. Sunday evening’s rain was a Deluge which Delayed the start of both festival closers, The Del McCoury Band and Railroad Earth. Despite the rain delay people could be seen continuing the Delebration by eating, drinking and playing in the campsite area. Del started playing around 9:40pm and played a modified set. They played “Logging” and talked about what tough work it is. Many locals will be affected by the closure of the Verso’s Luke Mill. Del said when he learned of closure and the fact that almost 700 plant workers would be out of a job, he felt compelled to extend the invitation to come to DelFest for free on Sunday. Railroad Earth closed out the festival with a 60 minute storm delayed set which began appropriately enough with “Chasin’ a Rainbow” and included new songs that Railroad Earth put to music from recently discovered John Denver letters.

After the last song on the Grandstand Stage fans went back to the Music Hall for the final late night of DelFest 12. After a slight delay where the fire department cleared the building, The Travelin’ McCourys and special guests took the stage to ring in the final notes.

This family friendly festival isn’t just a great music event, it is also a chance to help the local community. DelFest Foundation; whose mission is to nurture a strong community, raise awareness of social justice issues, and support a healthy environment, has donated over $500,000 to Alleghany County over the years. Additionally festival goers bring food to donate to the Del’s Army Food Drive. Since 2011 Del’s Army has collected more than two and half tons of food at DelFest. Del’s Army was set up for their annual food drive and Folkenphunk jammed at the site. All of this goodness doesn’t go unnoticed, this year the Secretary of Maryland citation was awarded to the McCoury family.

In addition to all of the music, DelFest this year introduced a Behind the Curtain series where a panel of musicians spoke honestly about a variety of topics. Some people took advantage of the weather and the location to go tubing and kayaking on the Potomac River. There were also vendors selling musical instruments, jewelry, clothing and more. And the food vendors... Nobody goes hungry at DelFest. Pie For the People, who have been at every DelFest, won the Dellie award for Best Food Vendor with their David Bowie pie. DelFest is the ultimate friendfest. Many people camp in the same area every year and look forward to seeing their Delfriends. Often times you see these folks at other concerts or events throughout the year, sometimes it’s only at DelFest, but its like seeing a long lost friend. It is always great to catch up with both old and new Delfriends.

The music was great, the location beautiful and the festival outstanding. One takeaway from the weekend is that DelFest is all about total inclusiveness - not only the artist towards each other and the fans but also the fans towards each other. Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth summed up the weekend when he said “ DelFest rocks! For me as a musician who has been in this community for many years it is like old home week. The place is filled with great music and great musicians who are friends and who are willing to collaborate with each other. This makes for excellent experiences for music lovers.” This collaboration was truly evidenced by the fact that as soon as Railroad Earth’s bus pulled in on Saturday, Tim and Mike Robinson went right over to join Lindsay Lou on stage. As one festival goer pointed out “This is a time to put aside our differences and enjoy each others company while sharing the common bond of DelFest.” There is a reason so many say “DelFest is my Happy Place”

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

Photo Gallery

Enjoy photos by our photographer Mark Raker of Mark Raker Photography.




A conversation with The Kruger Brothers.

More behind the scenes at DelFest.

An interview with Sierra Hull, Lindsay Lou, and Brook Aldridge discussing how Alison Krauss and subsequent female-led groups transformed string-band music!

Behind the scenes at DelFest with Ronnie McCoury and John Skehan from Railroad Earth

About the author
Dan Rozman

Dan Rozman

Dan Rozman is a lifelong music enthusiast. In addition to his love of music, Dan is a local homebrewer and self-proclaimed beer geek. The combination of these interests means you will find him at many concerts and beer-related events around the DMV. As a local lead, Dan also spends his time contributing to "Love Hope Strength Foundation" an organization which is Saving Lives, One Concert at a Time. LHSF has registered well over a 175,000 music fans to the National Marrow Donor Program helping to save lives of those suffering from blood borne illness.