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Published: 2010/05/24
by Nancy Dunham

Del McCoury’s Eclectic, Electric Fest

Q: Unlike Bill, it seems you’ve always advocated pushing the boundaries of the music.

A: I think it has to grow and expand. I will go back to the beginning. I did a jazz fest in New Orleans with Preservation Hall [Jazz Band]. They wanted to put a record together to help Katrina victims and asked my manager if I’d play with them. I said I was glad to. You know, those boys and my boys are just fascinated with each other…

The clarinet player in that band [Charlie Gabriel] is about 80 but he is still really good. Of course, my fiddle player [Jason Carter] is really young and he looks up to that clarinet player a lot. I said to him, what is it about his playing you find so different? He said, it’s his phrasing. I learn something every time I hear him. See, my boys are learning from them and I bet they are learning from my boys, too.

Q: Tell me how the fans accept that kind of cross pollination.

Well, [Preservation Hall] came to Nashville and I said ‘Did you ever play the Opry?’ They hadn’t and came over and were really excited and it went over really well…Ben Jaffe plays tuba and had visited me in Nashville earlier [last fall]. I asked him if he’d brought his tuba and he did. I said he should play with me at the Opry. I told him I’m going to leave a spot in this song where you can play the tuba and he did it. I think it was the first time a tuba was ever on the Opry stage. The fans were really excited about it.

Q: So many legendary musicians – really your peers – have stopped performing or only perform occasionally. What keeps you going especially with DelFest?

A: I just never lost my interest in music. I was the type of person who always liked the road, was never was disheartened having to be on the road. I think it takes a certain kind of person to do this. The main thing is I don’t have the desire I had when I was 20 but I still have it and it excites me to go out on stage. Back in those days, I could play all day and all night and all the next day. My body won’t let me do that today. But I still have the desire to play music and I’m always looking for a new sound.

Q: DelFest has the workshops, I know, taught my your band members (including sons Ronnie McCoury on mandolin and Rob McCoury on banjo). That has to be fun, to see a new generation of musicians come through.

A: Yes, we do the Academy and all these young people come and want to learn to play acoustic instruments. It’s great because youth is where it’s at. The young people are what keeps the music going – it’s uplifting to know a lot of young people going to play bluegrass.

Q: When we talk about DelFest I just have to ask – why have it in Cumberland, Maryland?

It’s such a beautiful place. You know, I’ve played a lot of festivals and I’d rather play there than anywhere.

We found out later that Cumberland the town have had hard times. [My manager] told them we are not just going to come here and do a weekend and never come back. We want to be part of the community every year. We help them with charity, with their food bank, and donate money for all kinds of different things. The town, the county, they’re behind us now.

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