There’s only one way to say it—Del McCoury is the coolest cat in bluegrass. Who else has sung with Bill Monroe, had one of his songs recorded by Phish, and played both the Grand Ole Opry and Bonnaroo? Del’s voice defines the high lonesome sound, and legions of bluegrass musicians and fans alike consider the silver haired tenor a living legend. For those wanting to celebrate all things Del, the fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maryland, will be the place to be between May 23rd and 25th. DelFest, produced in conjunction with High Sierra Music, offers acoustic music fans an amazing line up. Joining Del and his band will be Sam Bush, David Grisman, Keller and the Keels, Vince Gill, Dierks Bentley, The Punch Brothers featuring Chris Thile, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet featuring Bela Fleck, and a host of other spectacular artists. BRO recently caught up with Del at his home in Nashville to chat about the festival that bears his name.
BRO: If you could travel back in time and tell Del McCoury in the late 1950s or early 1960s that there would be this thing called DelFest in 2008, what do you think he’d say?
DM: He’d say, “Are you kidding?” From the first time I could remember, I always wanted to play music. Back in those days I would have probably played anywhere for free, and it was my love for music that kept me with it all these years. If you stay with anything long enough, it pays off. But I would never have dreamed it, not back in those days!
BRO: How involved were you and the guys in the band in the planning of the festival?
DM: Well, Roy Carter (of High Sierra Music) came to the east coast, because we wanted to have it out here, to look at locations. He checked out a whole bunch of locations. Then he told us that he wanted us to look at some of them. Roy started us off at the one in Cumberland, and I think in his mind he thought that if we saw that one first, we wouldn’t want to go anywhere else. And he was right; we didn’t even look at another location. I just liked it so much.
BRO: As a festival goer, I can tell you that the line up is fantastic.
DM: Well, they’re all our friends, and we’ve known these people for a long time. We think it is a good line up. Some of these guys are coming by themselves because they love bluegrass. Vince is coming up by himself. Dierks is coming by himself and plans on doing a bluegrass set. The boys will probably back him up. The jamband guys, we’ve known them for years. They used to come see our shows before they were even in a band. And we’ve known so many of these guys since they started playing music. It’s great that they are coming to play our festival. It’s going to be a great mixture of music, but there’ll be some hardcore bluegrass, too.
BRO: What does it mean to you that so many good friends want to come celebrate and play some music with you?
DM: It’s really an honor, because they are all such great musicians and singers. To have friends who will come and do that for you makes you feel really good. I’d do the same thing for them. You gain a lot of friends in this business. It’s a thrill.
BRO: In your career, you have played so many great places with so many great people. Where do you think DelFest will fit within all of the amazing things you have done?
DM: I think it is really going to be another highlight.
BRO: Knowing how hectic a weekend like this can be, do you think you’ll get to sit back, be a fan, and enjoy some music during the festival, or are you going to be flying all over the place with your guitar in hand?
DM: I do want to be a fan, but I think they plan on working me. We’ll probably have our bus and when it gets to be one or two or three o’clock in the morning I can probably go and lie down for a while. But I’ll enjoy it. I’ll probably be about dead when it’s all over. I plan on singing with most of the people who are there.
BRO: It sounds like you are going to be a busy man.
DM: I might have to hire someone to carry my guitar! You know, they may be sick of me by the time the weekend is over. It will be fun, though. I’m really looking forward to it. -Dave Stallard