DelFest 2019 Review: Why We Keep Coming Back
Photos By Eric Daneman and Michelle Enfield
The 12th Annual DelFest was an incredible celebration of Del McCoury‘s 80th birthday. This iconic founder of bluegrass hosts DelFest with his family every year in Cumberland, Maryland at the Allegany Fairgrounds on Memorial Day Weekend (May 23 – 26, 2019).
The 2019 DelFest festival was headlined by The Del McCoury Band, The String Cheese Incident, Railroad Earth, Tyler Childers, Trampled by Turtles, The Travelin’ McCourys, Billy Strings, Yonder Mountain String Band, Marcus King Band, and many more amazing musical acts.
Festy GoNuts invited Dark City Strings (our favorite bluegrass band from Asbury Park) to help us cover this East Coast music festival. They have been to three-quarters of the DelFest festivities over the years, along with countless other music festivals around the country. Read on to see their insight on the 2019 DelFest!
Delfest 2019: We’re Coming Home
After countless hours through days that at times have felt like years spent at festivals, it gets harder to place a finger on when exactly this long strange trip began for each of us. Like a dream, the details blur over time until the edges fade entirely.
Heading into the scenic Allegany County campgrounds this year for our crew’s 8th DelFest, we couldn’t help but feel this way.
Life gets busy and you lose your focus. You forget what’s important to you…what your “why” is. Within an hour of arriving Thursday night, the magic had been recaptured through the eyes of close friends who had never been to a bluegrass festival. It was clear they had been mesmerized by that same bluegrass spell that keeps us all coming back. The fresh mountain air, swimming in the mighty Potomac River, the “funny” late night walks through the woods with strangers (friends you’ve never met), and the high tenor voice of Del McCoury that wraps around you like the warmest hug you’ve ever had.
Yes – within 24 hours of their first festival, over our personal favorite breakfast burritos of the year, they were busy planning next year’s fest…hooked. These are the moments when it’s crystal clear how lucky we are to have a festival like DelFest. There are so many great festivals, but there is no sweeter way to kickoff summer each year than Del’s family jam. It’s the perfect place to shed our winter coats in exchange for summer party pants!
History Being Made
The music is always killer, but at times it feels historic. These moments in time where you are sure you will look back and say, I was there for that – or even better – “you should have been there, man!” To describe a performer like Marcus King or Billy Strings as “electric” seems like a failed attempt. These two are forces of nature on their own, but, in the rare instance you catch them in the same time and place, it’s an absolute privilege. Billy went late and brought friends. Needless to say, the stage was set and DelFest 2019 was officially on.
When Del McCoury asks you to come play his festival, you come play his festival. This has always put the Del faithful in the position of being the beneficiaries of this clout with big names from throughout the musical universe. No strangers to this (or any other party for that matter), the String Cheese Incident’s double set on the Main Stage Friday was destined to be a rager – and they delivered! Billy Strings joined the band – for his first SCI show and sit-in! – during “Black Clouds”, a staple cover in Billy’s repertoire and a MONSTER guitar battle with the senior Billy Nershi!
After getting caught in some traffic and a last-minute stage/set swap with Joe Craven & the Sometimers (who brought the sunshine with a set from the Garcia songbook), Front Country took the stage in the Music Hall and worked out the frustrations of their morning. They were watertight and absolutely lit up the room, and the crowd showed their love. The Bloody Mary’s weren’t too bad either!
We’d see Melody Walker (Front Country) joining Linsday Lou later in the afternoon on the Potomac Stage for a set that had people talking two days later. Lindsay is not only an unbelievable talent but a presence on stage, singing “Smooth and Groovy” and “The River Jordan” along with beautiful new material that we can only hope to hear more of soon. I’m With Her and Sierra Hull rounded out a bluebird afternoon dominated by the ladies of the valley.
Making Their Mark
It’s been incredible to witness the growing legend of Tyler Childers, and the big stage at his first DelFest treated him well. It’d be easy to get distracted by a voice like that, or a performer who puts blood and bone into each song as he does, but you’d be a fool not to note the depth and imagery behind the songwriting. Shake. The. Frost. — just don’t ask him to play Country Roads! (haha)
Also making their DelFest debut are Pennsylvania rippers Serene Greene. These boys have been coming down to Cumberland on Memorial Day weekend for a few years, and you don’t have to wander through the camp long before you catch them out picking somewhere. It was great to see a regional name make the lineup, and congrats are in order for winning the community-nominated Dellie Award for 2019 Best New Artist! (Do you get 4 or 1?!)
A cornerstone of the community and brother/mentor/friend to all he knew or ever met, the legacy Andy Goessling left behind was also accompanied by a void. Watching how Railroad Earth and its Hobo community have come together over the last year has been inspiring, and it’s clear the band is feeding off this energy. The addition of superstar talent in Mike Robinson and Matt Slocum makes this possible, as they have both seamlessly weaved themselves into the Railroad Earth tapestry. If you told someone they’d hear “Bird in a House”, “Colorado”, “Dandelion Wine”, “Mighty River”, “Spring Heeled Jack”, and “Railroad Earth” in one weekend, they’d think you were sending them to 3 days of Railroad shows. But the guys just kept them coming and made the absolute most of every minute they had.
It’s this spirit of spontaneity and communal collaboration that permeates every aspect of this special festival held each Memorial Day weekend. One can’t help but laugh watching the smiling crowds seamlessly transition from bathing suits and sunglasses to storm gear without missing a beat. This “flow” has become a staple of the DelFest experience in recent years, and this year was no exception. From last-minute stage and schedule switches to smoke alarms and storms, it seems to me the secret to “knowing” and appreciating this amazing place and time is to understand you will never fully be able to anticipate what it’s likely to throw at you next.
See you out there – DCS
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