Del McCoury Band, Neighborhood Theatre, Charlotte, NC- 11/30
Del McCoury is Nashville. He is bluegrass and he is class. Del McCoury and his band show us all how it’s meant to be done. With old school sensibilities that find them dressed every night in their Sunday finest, Del and the boys crowd around their mics and remind us of a bygone day when musicians without talent would have been laughed off of the stage rather than given a recording contract complete with backup singers and an MTV video. There is no faking it with the Del McCoury Band. They play without nets, without crutches and without excuses. There is no distortion to hide behind, no drummer to tempo to, and the result is probably one of the most perfect bands on the road today.
On Friday, November 30th, they brought their set to the Neighborhood Theatre in Charlotte, North Carolina.
These guys have impeccable vocals and flawless harmonies. When a member of this band steps up to take a solo, he has something to say and there is a fluidity to the group that you lose when the guys start plugging in and inadvertently anchoring themselves to a piece of the stage. When Robbie McCoury, one of the best bluegrass banjo players around, peaks through the rest of the band to sing the lead on "Nashville Cats," and then leans back and lets the rest of the band sing the backing vocal, it is just fun to watch. Del moves between mics and the rest of the band swells and wanes around him.
Del has two sons on stage with him, Robbie on banjo and Ronnie on mandolin. Both are masters of their field. The rest of the band is Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass and they don’t ever seem to feel left out. Musically, they are on par with the McCourys. They both took turns singing lead and accompanying vocals. Carter had plenty of chances to solo throughout the night. When Del forgot the name of a song or composer it was almost always Bartram who stepped up and whispered it in his ear. Blood is not important in this band, they are clearly all family.
The show was opened by Charlotte locals Fedor and Guthrie. They are two pieces of the quintet The New Familiars, a very strong Charlotte acoustic thrash band in the vein of the Avett Brothers. Without their full rhythm sectioned backing band, these two took the stage with smiles on their faces. They were scruffy and hairy. They had on suits and ties and they were carrying their weapons of choice: guitars, a banjo, a mandolin, a harmonica snuggly in its holder around Guthrie’s neck and their voices. They sang tight harmonies, played well-written songs, and entertained the excited crowd for a little under an hour. Without their drums and bass and amplifiers, they had a sound very reminiscent of the Old Crow Medicine Show. At times they conjured images of Gillian Welch and David Rawlings. The two grew up together and it was evident that they have been playing together a long time. There was a familiarity and comfortability between the two that is rarely seen in musicians, especially ones as young as Fedor and Guthrie. It was a great start to a great night.
It was an interesting juxtaposition from fresh, raw talent to the veteran act. When the Del McCoury Band took the stage, they were the picture of experience and that’s what the audience was there for. Much to Del’s delight, the audience showed up with requests in tow. He called for them throughout the night and while he often joked that he did not remember a song or a lyric, without fail they played the song. This is a band that believes in audience participation and aims to please. About halfway through the show and in the middle of a verse, Ronnie forgot the lyrics to a song off of his new children’s album: Little Mo’ McCoury. On the next song, Del forgot the words to a song that he was singing. It was an otherwise flawless night and these quick reminders that these guys are human only added to the smiles both on stage and off.
During the first encore, Ronnie put down his mandolin and made the only instrument switch throughout the night. He picked up a mandocello and showed us how he does it on the lower registers. The encore ended with Del, Alan and Robbie comping as Ronnie and Jason got down and dirty trading solos staring eye to eye and matching each other line for line. The encore ended and the lights stayed low, after which the band came back out and treated us to another one. Surprisingly, Jason Carter got the last word of the night. They did a quick fiddle jig, under a minute in length, which made up in intensity what it lacked in length. Then the band took two steps back, bowed to their audience like gentlemen, and exited the stage.
While Del’s band is bluegrass at heart, throughout the night we heard them push their way into a lot of musical territory. Gospel, traditional and blues made extended appearances. Klemzer, swing and jazz all dropped in for a quick hello. Bill Monroe would have been proud watching his boy all grown up and with so many worldly friends.