DelYeah! DelFest 2018

I’d like to start by saying that this was the first festival that I was able to not only attend, but also, being a part of DC Music Review, able to observe the organization and events that happen on the day-to-day, realize how hard everyone works to make this come together, and see a side of the festival life I never have before. DelFest has been my favorite festival for quite a few years and this added a special significance to something I already held near and dear. I’d like to thank everyone that I had the opportunity to work with prior to and during the festival and to the artists that took the time to talk to those of us that were there in a working capacity to give us some really great highlights to share with our readers.

Ronnie McCoury and Del McCoury

Hard to know where to start on the recap of what went down in Cumberland, Maryland this Memorial Day Weekend as the 11th annual DelFest danced, poured and picked its way through four amazing days, but here goes nothing…  First of all, it’s noteworthy to mention that, it seemed as though there was never a moment when the man himself, Del McCoury, was seen without a smile on his face throughout the weekend and attendees seemed to follow suit. From the press conferences that I was able to attend, interviews I was able to see and conduct and the folks that I was able to talk with in general, Del really is what makes this such a great place to be. Both Paul Hoffman and Anders Osborne of Greensky Bluegrass noted that their favorite memories from the festival are being able to share a stage with the legend and that they hope that never gets old. I can certainly speak for the majority of the festival goers when I say, I don’t think it ever will.

Greensky Bluegrass with Del McCoury

A happy-go-lucky crowd that grows its family year after year, once again reunited in the heart of Allegany County to be among the rushing Potomac River, amazing people and music of the Appalachia. The music at DelFest brings OG legends as well as well as folks that are newer to the bluegrass scene. From heavy hitters like Greensky Bluegrass and Old Crow Medicine Show to some possibly less known acts like Rising Appalachia and Twisted Pineno matter the hour or stage you chose to enjoy, you were in for a foot stomping good time. A place where you don’t even have to know any of the bands originals to enjoy the sounds, as you’ll eventually be able to belt the words to Tom Petty, The Beatles, Fleetwood Mac and countless others which bands covered throughout the weekend. Hearing words to songs you’ve been singing your whole life, in my case, set to a new tune and different instruments is absolute goose-bump worthy musical magic. Highly recommended is hearing one of your favorite songs put to the tune of a fiddle, banjo and mandolin – I promise, you will not be disappointed.

Kicking off the weekend Thursday, folks who were early enough to get in to the campground and unloaded, were able to hear sound check from Del and his band, the California Honeydrops set on the main stage followed by Rhiannon Giddens and headliners of night one, The Infamous Stringdusters. A great showing of what was just the beginning of guest appearances and collaborations, Ronnie McCoury stepped onstage Thursday to join the Dusters as they played just over 8 minutes of an acoustic jam followed by a Bob Dylan cover, in honor of the rambling man’s birthday. 

The ​Lil Smokies

For the people who refuse to stop once the main stage shuts down, DelFest lines up some great sets for the late night stage located in the Music Hall. Getting to jump start the reasons to party til the sun comes up were The Lil Smokies and none other than Fruition. Both bands late night sets got everyone excited for their main stage shows that were still yet to come. One of the best things about DelFest is the amazing late night shows that they schedule - keeping you moving until the early morning hours. Since tickets for each night are separate than the actual festival, not everyone attends, but fear not, the other great part about DelFest is the campsite picking parties that go on way into the wee hours as well.

Friday brought opportunity and choices with the day offering some early chances to check out bands some folks might not be as familiar with. Mountain Ride, John Stickley Trio, Mandolin Orange and Birds of Chicago all showed up for their sets before 4PM. Choices had to be made between The Brothers Comatose, who also still had a late night set to come and Fruition who had played the night before. 

I previously mentioned many a band that was covered this weekend and though I didn’t originally mention The Grateful Dead, it should go without saying that their music was heard on stages and in campsites alike. Friday afternoon brought another opportunity to enjoy those same sounds melded with string instruments on the Potomac Stage as attendees enjoyed a little over an hour of The Grass is DeadRicky Skaggs played the main stage gaving us another taste of the old way of bluegrass that is what we are thankful for as it caused the wave of new music to come to be as well. While Ricky himself made an appearance onstage with quite a few other folks throughout the weekend, it was with the Kentucky Thunder that he truly had a chance to shine.

The Del McCoury Band 

The Del McCoury Band took the stage close to the sun saying goodnight for the day and Del proved, once again, what it is we love so much about this festival – HIM. The man is a pioneer of the bluegrass scene, has been around for half a century and every time I saw him he was absolutely DELighted that he gets to do this year after year. His enthusiasm and general giddiness is heard in his voice, his music and the sheer joy he gets from bringing so many different people together both onstage and in the audience. Closing out Friday night was Greensky Bluegrass who was happy to be back and share the stage with Del after missing last year to play at Roosterwalk. They had him onstage during ‘Country Boy Rock n Roll’, had Jason Carter join them and then later, with Jon Stickley up on stage, absolutely killed a seventeen minute version of ‘Broke Mountain Breakdown’. Their encore of ‘Bring Out Your Dead’ ensured that almost every single person stayed until the very last moment.

Billy Strings

The rain joined the party eventually as well, as it made a guest appearance Saturday putting the show on pause, albeit very briefly in the early part of the day and allowing many an attendee an excuse to not worry about shoes and commence the puddle stomping. Billy Strings got things going again, as he pulled in just on time, he later told me in an interview, coming from an epic late night show at Roosterwalk with Marcus King. This would be just one of the three sets Billy would play, leaving everyone eagerly anticipating the late night show that was to come just a few hours later. One of the biggest things that came out of DelFest 2017, was the establishment of the Bluegrass Congress inspired by some of our forefather’s journeys through the People’s Republic way back when. This is the type of Congress I would want making all of my decisions! They brought it back for 2018 and there was absolutely no shortage of mind blowing talent on the stage Saturday night. It’s still crazy to think about Sam Bush, Ricky Skaggs, Del McCoury, David Grisman, Jerry Douglas, Bryan Sutton and Stuart Duncan jamming together while we all watched in amazement. Seeing the talent span from one artist to another as each took a turn to show their reason for being a member of the Congress on their individual instruments was truly what made DelFest 2018. 

The Brothers Comatose with Jay Cobb Anderson of Fruition

Next up on the main stage were The Travelin McCourys, who welcomed more members of the family onstage, including Ronnie’s son which gave us all hope to this festival continuing for a long time to come with some great talent. The band gave us a great set to close out Saturday night and even though it was cut short just a bit by the push that the weather caused earlier, it personally, made me very thankful that they would be the last band to play late night Sunday. As the crowd departed the grand stage, there was a lot of excitement for what was still to come. The Brothers Comatose had put on a great set earlier in the day at the Potomac Stage but they are one of those bands who come alive at night and the audience can’t help but go right along with it. The band played some of their best and even threw a few little familiar teasers in there ("Isn’t She Lovely" by Stevie Wonder). Their second to last track was something that we all hope, and they got Billy Strings to come out and join them on "I’ll Never Grow Old" only getting the crowd more and more excited for what was to come. Saturday night was shut down by what seems like is an endless supply of energy from 25 year old Billy and after playing the night before, earlier in the day and still yet to play the main stage Sunday, it seemed as though nothing could drain the energy of this guy. Even on day 3 at 1:45am, Billy made the crowd move and party as though the weekend was just getting started. His set included "Slow Train" and "This Heart of Mine" along with two songs that brought Ronnie McCoury out on stage to play the mandolin, one being a ten minute jam that tore it down while the crowd cheered, hooped and hawed right in tune. 

The Wood Brothers

Sunday brought several of the late night acts to the main and Potomac Stage and if you were lucky enough to catch Billy 12 hours prior, you would again be in awe of his ability to jam on and shred an acoustic guitar. As we neared the end of the day Dustbowl Revival got another spot in the Music Hall after playing there Friday late night and the choice of The Wood Brothers or The Gibson Brothers was the last decision that needed to be made for the weekend. The Del McCoury Band once again took the main stage around sunset playing some real outlaw music and welcoming Heaven McCoury to join them on electric guitar for great songs like ‘Hot Wire’ ‘Trainwreck’ and ‘This Kind of Life’. After seeing Del at one of the press conferences that was held earlier in the day, it absolutely DELighted me to hear that they don’t plan on calling it quits any time soon and that Cumberland is actually in store for even more in 2019 from Del and the crew. Old Crow Medicine Show was last up on the main stage Sunday night and of course ‘Wagon Wheel’ seemed to get everyone to sing along. The crowd did die down a bit as a lot of people packed up and departed Sunday but let me just say that you should never miss a Sunday show, especially if Monday is a holiday and Old Crow proved one of the reasons why. I personally had never seen them live before and am very thankful that I was able to. As members of the Grand Ole Opry, their stage presence was monstrous, and before they went on, I had doubted that I would make it to the last of my four late night shows. Their energy was infectious and kept the crowd, old and young moving until the bitter (sweet) end.

As another late night came to an end, The Travelin McCoury’s had the whole Music Hall dancing until they couldn’t possibly any more. Walking back to camp for the final rest before waking up to pack up, I was thankful for everyone I met, talked to, saw perform and got to share the special weekend with. The countdown begins for next years holiday weekend and if you ask if this is something you should mark your calendar for now, I’d have to say DELYEAH!!!

The man, the myth, the one, and only Del McCoury!
See you all next year at DelFest 2019!

If you want to see why DelFest is so beloved, celebrated, and unique, then look no further than the following compilation of the Great Moments From DelFest (Courtesy of DelFest's YouTube Channel)

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

Available Soundboards

About the author
Karin McLaughlin

Karin McLaughlin

Karin has been a live music junkie all her life, however is a fairly new fan in the world of jam bands and bluegrass. She grew up on hip hop, classic soul, motown and classic rock but has found a new home in the festival world and that is what, in part, had brought her to DC Music Review. Karin produces and hosts a weekly radio show in the area called Karin's Calendar, where she talks all about 'Where to be in the DMV'. She is very excited to be starting down a semi-new road with us and hopes to use her interview skills and write ups of shows to contribute even more to DC Music Review.