Del McCoury plays OK Theatre

Del McCourry

ENTERPRISE — Grammy winning Del McCoury, the most celebrated man in bluegrass, graces the OK Theatre stage Nov. 30.

McCoury has won 31 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards. The Association named McCoury “Entertainer of the Year” nine times and “Male Vocalist of the Year” four times. In 2004 his album. “It’s Just The Night” was nominated for a Grammy and in 2006 he won his first Grammy  in the same category for the album  “The Company We Keep.” In 2014, McCoury was nominated and won his second Grammy for the album “The Streets of Baltimore.”

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Culminating a long career in 2015 McCoury received the Bluegrass Star Award from the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation bestowed upon bluegrass artists who advance traditional bluegrass music and bring it to new audiences while preserving its character and heritage.

This last award sums up
McCoury’s living legacy succinctly — he is a musician who has collaborated with diverse musical acts like Steve Earle, Preservation Hall Jazz Band and the rock jam-band Phish. A couple years ago Woody Guthrie’s daughter Nora sent McCoury 26 songs her father had written, but never set to music. Twelve of those songs were recorded on McCoury’s 2016 album “Del & Woody.”

McCoury was born in North Carolina, but moved to York County, Pennsylvania, when he was a toddler. His older brother taught him to play guitar and turned him onto banjo player Earl Scruggs. Growing up in the 50s, McCoury’s musical taste was for what many called hillbilly music as opposed to rock and roll that was hitting the airwaves.

The father of Bluegrass, Bill Monroe, discovered McCoury’s
talent when he was a young musician playing in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. in the early 1960s. Monroe convinced the budding banjo player to go back to the guitar and use his tenor voice to sing lead.

After a year on the road with Monroe he spent a few months in California playing music before returning to Pennsylvania to start a family.

“When I worked with Bill it didn’t matter if I got paid or not, I could play all the time, but I realized that I needed to spend more time at home and get some steady work to start raising a family,” McCoury said.

During the week he worked for his wife’s uncle as a logger, but he needed to be allowed time off to play music.

“I had this day job and was recording records on a whole slew of independent labels,” McCoury said.

In 1981, when McCoury’s oldest son Ronnie was 14, he joined his father’s band on the mandolin. His brother, Rob, joined the band a few years later, also as a teenager, on banjo. By the mid-80s music became a full-time gig for all three of them.

McCoury came out from the esoteric blue grass world in 2002 when the McCoury Band joined the “Down From the Mountain” tour, a group of country artists who traveled and performed music from the movie “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

“After we did that there were a bunch of labels in Nashville interested, we became a member of Grand Ole Opry, won a Grammy and were very popular. These big labels were scratching their heads wondering, ‘Are we missing out on something?’”

McCoury said after talking to 10 major labels he called his manager.

“My manager said he knew all these people and they don’t know how to promote blue grass, only modern country music,” McCoury said. “He told me, ‘We are going to do all the work anyway, have you ever thought about having your own label?”

In 2003 McCoury Music was started in the McCoury home of Nashville, Tennessee.

He said the luxury of having his own studio is he can record whenever he likes and isn’t opposed to releasing music digitally.

“I do a couple songs, stream that for a couple weeks on Sirius Radio’s Bluegrass Junction, and then do a couple more songs,” he said.

Eventually those recordings will end up on an album, McCoury said.

However, recording is not the backbone of bluegrass music; live performance is, whether it’s live at the Grand Ole Opry, clubs and theaters across the U.S. and Europe or the myriad of music festivals across the country. Drawing on the popular festival scene, once again McCoury said his manager had a business proposition.

“I played for the High Sierra Festival in northern California for quite a few years,” McCoury said. “My manager said, ‘What do you think of doing your own festival?’”

With the help of High Sierra organizer Roy Carter, McCoury said they started looking for a place to hold a festival on the East Coast. The very first place they looked was the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maryland.

“I played a lot of festivals and there is not a better location,” McCoury said.

Delfest, as it’s dubbed, started in 2008 and isn’t strictly a bluegrass festival. Many of the acts that have appeared at the OK Theatre are regulars at Delfest such as The Infamous Stringdusters, Fruition, Brothers Comatose, the Shook Twins, Sierra Hull and Billy Strings.

“All music is kind of related when you really think about it – it’s all akin,” McCoury said. “There are a lot of purists who don’t want to stray from one certain thing, but I like variety. I like to stick to my traditional style, but it doesn’t mean I don’t like to hear other styles.”

The Del McCoury Band appears at OK Theatre Nov. 30. Doors open at 6 p.m., Caleb Klauder and Reeb Willms play at 7 p.m. and the Del McCoury Band begins its performance at 8 p.m.

Tickets are $40 at M. Crow and Company in Lostine, Joseph Hardware in Joseph, the Bookloft in Enterprise and at www.eventbrite.com.

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