In addition to its cutting edge visual art exhibits, MASS MoCA in North Adams has become a formidable regional presenter of a wide-array of musical events, including, of course Wilco’s wonderful Solid Sound Festival. Last weekend, the museum complex presented FreshGrass: A Festival of Bluegrass & Art featuring some of the most popular bluegrass-and-beyond artists, from the Infamous Stringdusters (who topped the Saturday night schedule) to Sunday’s closer the Yonder Mountain String Band.
In fact, the fest featured two days of fine, up-and-upcoming musicians – including Sarah Jarosz, Ramblin Jug Stompers, Dave Mayfield, Crooked Still’s Aoife O’Donovan and the Hackensaw Boys – performing at a variety of different venues scattered throughout MASS MoCA’s sprawling campus.
However, for many in attendance it was the appearance of the Del McCoury Band on Sunday afternoon that sparked their interest. After all, guitar picker and singer, McCoury is bonafide bluegrass royalty, having honed his chops as a member of the legendary Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys. His 50-plus years as a recording, performing and touring ambassador have made him one of the music’s elder respected statesmen. In fact, on Thursday (September 29, just four days after his FreshGrass performance), McCoury was inducted into the the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame at a ceremony at Nashville’s revered Ryman Auditorium.
Performing outside in the museum’s Courtyard C under sunny skies, McCoury’s crisp guitar playing, keening voice and huge smile embraced the audience. At his side, his sons Ronnie McCoury (mandolin) and Robbie McCoury (banjo) provided proof positive that the marvelous McCoury musical magic will carry on for at least another generation.
Stating that this was a short set in comparison to what they normally play, the 72-year-old, silver-haired McCoury told the audience that they would keep the introductions to a minimum as to keep the music moving along. And the five-piece outfit did just that – at a fever pitch – with an array tunes that featured that trademark high lonesome vocal sound, as well as a non-stop parade of instrumental virtuosity.
The band’s repertoire spanned McCoury’s long career and featured ditties by the likes of Richard Thompson and an impressive, crowd-pleasing version of the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Nashville Cats.”
Of course, no bluegrass concert is complete without a nod to the late master, Bill Monroe. And McCoury dutifully paid heartfelt homage to his former boss and friend with several selections from his brand-spankin’ new album, “Old Memories: The Songs Of Bill Monroe.”
Review and photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
Additional photos by Fritz Roth