Review by Greg Haymes
With a name like FreshGrass, you wouldn’t expect a bluegrass festival to lean toward the traditional end of the music spectrum. Especially since the fest has become a regular event at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. So it was no surprise that despite some true traditional torchbearers – most notably, the iconic Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys – the line-up for the third annual FreshGrass festival at MASS MoCA in North Adams had a decidedly contemporary, envelope-pushing edge.
The Sam Bush Band soared through Jean Luc Ponty’s “New Country”…
The Infamous Stringdusters bounced through the Police’s “Walking On the Moon”…
And the Jerry Douglas Band dug deep into Weather Report’s “A Remark You Made.” As Douglas explained, “It’s got a lot of the same notes and chords as Bill Monroe, but not in the same order.”
But it was the Del McCoury Band, headlining the third and final day of the fest, who managed to find the perfect balance between the traditional and the contemporary, between the bluegrass and everything else.
It was, of course, a family affair with Del McCoury’s classic high, lonesome vocals buttressed by his sons – mandolinist Ronnie McCoury and banjo man Rob McCoury, as well as bassist Alan Bartram and fab fiddler Jason Carter.
Their set got off to an inauspicious start, as Del broke a guitar string early on. But while he was off changing his string, Ronnie stepped up to the mic for a solid rendition of Ernest Tubb’s “Thanks a Lot,” and the show didn’t skip a beat. When Del returned, he brought along Sam Bush to duet with him on “Roll On, Buddy, Roll On.” And as Bush proclaimed, “If there is a King of Bluegrass, his name is Del.”
The band took on time-honored gems like “Rain and Snow,” Bill Monroe’s “Kentucky Waltz” (featuring Bartram on lead vocals), Earl Scruggs’ instrumental warhorse “Foggy Mountain Breakdown” and Ola Belle Reed’s magnificent “I’ve Endured.” But along the way, they mixed in the Lovin’ Spoonful’s “Nashville Cats,” Robert Cray’s “Smokin’ Gun” and their signature rendition of Richard Thompson’s “1952 Vincent Black Lightning” (which Del referred to simply as “The Vincent”).
Larry Murray’s story at Berkshire On Stage
Jason Verlinde’s story at Fretboard Journal
Vito Valentinetti’s photographs at Music Festival Junkies
David Hollender’s photographs at Bluegrass Today
Corey the Groundhog’s audio of Sam Bush at Internet Archive
Corey the Groundhog’s audio of the Del McCoury Band at Internet Archive
THE DEL McCOURY BAND SET LIST
Dry My Tears and Move On
Thanks A Lot (without Del) (Ernest Tubb)
Roll On Buddy, Roll On (with Sam Bush)
Nashville Cats (Lovin’ Spoonful)
All Aboard (with the accompaniment of a freight train rolling by)
Trainwreck of Emotion
I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome
Train 45 (Heading South)
Streets of Baltimore
Rain and Snow
Red Eyes on a Mad Dog
Smoking Gun (Robert Cray)
1952 Vincent Black Lightning (Richard Thompson)
I’ll Put on a Crown and Walk Around
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
High on a Mountain