DelFest is a 3 day music festival at the Allegeny County fairgrounds hosted by the venerable Del McCoury and his musical family. We went to the inaugural DelFest last year and were very impressed with the setting, the incredible line up of musicians and the overall vibe. This year's DelFest had many more patrons than last year and the festival organizers did their best to handle the larger crowd. They did an adequate job, but I'm afraid this festival is going to outgrow the fairgrounds as the camping was pretty tight this year.
We listened to a few of the first acts (Davisson Brothers, Steep Canyon Rangers) as background music while we set up at our campsite. We were pleased that Tim Carbone of Railroad Earth stopped by for drinks and conversation. Here's a shot of Tim and Tim Stephens, two oenophiles wondering how they can get more Bubba!
With Tim Carbone toddling off to take a Bubba nap, we headed to the main stage to hear the Infamous Stringdusters. This was the second time that I've seen this band and they are excellent purveyors of fine acoustic music. They did a nice mixture from straight up bluegrass numbers to more jazzy tunes, including a tasty rendition of John Hartford's "Steam Powered Aeroplane". Then the Del McCoury Band took the stage and they were great (as always). Del apologized for having voice problems (which plagued him all weekend) but the rest of the band stepped up and filled the void. Actually I noticed that Ronnie can sound pretty much like his dad when he's trying. They took requests from the audience and played lots of great bluegrass.
Del and the boys were followed by Railroad Earth, sounding fine as always. I especially like hearing "New Lee Highway Blues". However it had been a long day (5 am wake up call) and I had consumed several Bubbas, so I headed back to camp to rest before the set was over. (I knew I would see RRE again the next night at the late show.) I rested for an hour or so then got up and listened in to the late night pickup jam at our campsite. There were some members of City Farm, joined by other festival goers, it was a wild musical experience that lasted until 3 am but is probably best left undocumented.
I got over to the Main Stage Saturday morning to see Joe Craven (who is a talented multi-instrumentalist, first got to know him via the David Grisman Quintet) performing as a solo artist. He uses digital loops (a la Keller Williams) that allow him to lay down a percussion track, then play along with himself (musically that is) on fiddle, mandolin, etc. He's very entertaining and just the right way to start the day while nursing that third cup of coffee.
Later in the day we went to the "Playshop" area, which is a rec center type of building (air-conditioned!) where first we saw Joe Craven and Ronnie McCoury play some beautiful music together, but I wanted to catch Peter Rowan on the main stage so we headed back there and I have to say he was a disappointment. I've enjoyed Mr. Rowan's performances plenty of times before, but something about his current band "the Free Mexican Air Force" didn't click with me. So we head back to the Playshop to catch members of the Lee Boys and the Del McCoury band doing some great jamming together. Then we went to catch Sam Bush on the main stage but a sudden storm sent the audience running for shelter and chased Sam from the stage. The festival organizers did a very good job of keeping the music going after the storm as they put Old Crow Medicine Show in the Playshop building. This was the first time that I saw these guys and they truly rocked the house with a high energy set that had everyone dancing. I would definitely recommend seeing them the next time they come around. Then we saw Leftover Salmon back on the Main Stage with a good but short set of their patented "polyethnic cajun slamgrass". After Leftover we went straight to the late night show, Railroad Earth back in the Playshop building. We got in and got seats only 15 feet from the stage. They started with "Warhead Boogie" which is always fun, then they were joined by Jason Carter (violin) and Ronnie McCoury of the Del McCoury Band. Jason and Tim were trading licks back and forth for the entire show. They kept challenging each other and raising the intensity to the highest levels. This was certainly a high point of the festival for me.
After a rousing RRE set, then the Del McCoury band took the stage along with Andy Goessling and Tim Carbone. They continued to kick out the high energy jams until the wee hours of morning...
This was an easy going day for us, tried to catch Tim O'Brien but the logistics just didn't really work. But as the evening started we got to see Del's band one more time (by now he was hardly singing at all). Tim O'Brien was sitting in with them. A highlight with the DMB is always "Nashville Cats" and they didn't disappoint this time. Then another big highlight of the festival, Dark Star Orchestra put on a great show, the first set was acoustic, and of course they were joined by Del, Ronnie McCoury and Jason Carter! Del only stayed for a couple of songs, but Ronnie and Jason sat in for the remainder of the show. A big favorite for me was hearing "Ripple" with Ronnie on mandolin.
In closing, this was a super festival from a musical point of view, there is such a great lineup of artists and with the Playshops you can get up close and personal. The organizers will have to deal with the increasing crowds each year, but if you ask me if I'll be back next year: "Del Yeah!"