Oh, the snow was white but the grass was blue Thursday night. The Ardmore Music Hall served as perfect salvation from nights snowstorm. Thursday was just the second night of The Jeff Austin Band and Travelin’ McCourys with Billy Nershi’s road to DelFest tour celebrating the life and music of the great Del McCoury. The tour is acting as sort of the yellow brick road, with Del, the bluegrass wizard at the end, for DelFest in Cumberland MD over Memorial Day weekend.
The former Yonder Mountain String Band mandolin player, Jeff Austin led off the night and had the band playing like a well oiled American Roots music and Bluegrass playing machine. As if there was ever any question with his days fronting YSMB, Jeff Austin is one hell of a musician, and truly a possessed man with the mandolin. Jeff’s admiration for the music is tangible, and you knew when putting together a band to tour with he wasn’t choosing any cast of average Joe’s, but the likes of Danny Barnes, Ross Martin, and Eric Thorin.
One of the sets highlights was Austin’s funky mandolin riff lead “15 steps”, combined with Eric Thorin’s thick standup bass line made the whole crowd groovin’. Another standout tune was the up beat “Living in Between” diddle, which really showed Austin’s band leadership by directing solo’s for each member, then slowing down into a slower space jam and reprising back into the main upbeat melody to cap off the tune.
Towards the end of the set Jeff passed the torch to “American Hero” and five string banjo virtuoso Danny Barnes to sing “Chicken Yard” with his signature wholesome Texas mumble. Before playing his final song as a tribute to Del, Austin made sure to acknowledge how lucky we are in 2015 to be able to still listen to the music of the great 74 year old Del McCoury and celebrate the scene and the vibes that come with it.
Once The Travelin’ McCoury’s graced the stage with Billy Nershi of The String Cheese Incident, everyone immediately felt a sense of musical nirvana in the air, as they couldn’t imagine any better cast of musicians playing this type of down home Bluegrass music. Led by son’s Ron (mandolin), and Rob (banjo) of the Bluegrass legend Del McCoury, burning up the road ,playing ol’ time American Folk and Bluegrass tunes runs deep in their veins.
Looking across the stage, their wasn’t a string without purpose, from Rob’s thick pluckin’ banjo work, Ron’s fast paced mandolin pickin’, Alan Bartram‘s slappin’ the standup bass, to Jason Carter providing the soul by burning it up on the fiddle. They also each carry their own encyclopedic knowledge of Folk music, highlighted by Jason Carter on fiddle leading the band with an old Doc Watson song “South Bound”.
Other standouts included the Billy Nershi sung “Lonesome Wind Blues” featuring the entire ensemble of string solo’s in full force. Ron McCoury led a feverish attack on the mandolin for what he called some David Grissman inspired “dawg music”. As we all gathered in Ardmore in a cold snowy night, Bill Nershi made sure to remind us of what we were all missing from his home, singing the uplifting String Cheese Incident favorite, “Colorado Blue Sky”.
Just as everyone hoped and expected, the McCoury’s invited the entire Jeff Austin back on stage for a “good ol’ fashion jam session” and a lengthy encore set. Jeff Austin took to the microphone and led off the set with a hard grinding Danny Barnes ballad, “Pretty Daughter”. Then the torch was passed back to Billy Nershi as he led a an old time uplifting country tune which had the whole crowd hand clapping and singing along, “Country Pickin’ Sing A While!”.
One of the highlights of the two bands collaborative encore super jam, which might have been worth the price of admission itself, was Ron McCoury and Jeff Austin sharing the stage with dual mandolins. Austin, a well established mandolin player in his own right would peak over the shoulder of Ron, almost like a student looking for tips from his master in an apprenticeship.
The talent up on stage was truly bar none and was, in equal parts a display of some of today’s most talented musicians in Bluegrass and American Roots music, and a celebration of one of the legends, Del McCoury, on the road to DelFest.