Electrifying news: The McCourys (some of them) plug in (some of the time)
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” Ronnie McCoury, mandolinist of the all-acoustic, generally traditionalist Del McCoury Band, hasn’t busted out the tie-dye and the Grateful Dead repertoire yet.
But he has taken a major step out of the bluegrass confines in his latest project: The Travelin’ McCourys ” which features all of the Del McCoury Band save for singer-guitarist Del himself ” amplify their music.
When the Travelin’ McCourys started hitting the road last year, with a series of shows with the gospel group the Lee Boys, they played two dates in the acoustic style they were accustomed to. But opening for the electrified Lee Boys, and then attempting to jam with them, they realized that, sound-wise, they would need more equipment than a few microphones. So for the rest of the run, the McCourys ” banjoist Robbie McCoury, fiddler Jason Carter, bassist Alan Bartram, and Ronnie ” hauled out some amplifiers.
“So that’s something different for us to do,” said Ronnie, who has been playing in his father’s band for 28 of his 42 years. “And it’s strange for some people to see.”
To McCoury, plugging in is fairly novel. Apart from playing some electric guitar in a country band and sitting in with the Grateful Dead cover band Once Fish, both back in the ’80s; and doing the occasional, more recent guest appearance, virtually all his playing has been in the acoustic setting. But the electrification hasn’t been shocking.
“A lot of my mandolin heroes ” [David] Grisman, Sam Bush ” have played electric mandolin,” said McCoury, from his home near Nashville. And he has a fond memory of sitting in ” and plugging in ” with Bush in an early ’90s show at the Telluride Bluegrass Festival. “Playing with Sam Bush at Telluride, you get that electric buzz going through you.”
The Travelin’ McCourys don’t opt for the plugged-in mode every night. Bigger venues and club settings generally call for amplification, but the deciding factor is usually the desire of the promoter. “Mainly hipper, younger promoters want electric. Southern festivals want it acoustic,” said McCoury. Plugging in hasn’t changed the repertoire too much yet, though Robbie McCoury ” who sometimes plays a full-on electric instrument ” has worked in a banjo tune that his brothers calls “a little more funky.”
The Travelin’ McCourys make their Aspen debut tonight at Belly Up, opening for California’s Hot Buttered Rum ” an act that itself has transformed from an acoustic string band to a more electric and eclectic outfit. Playing in plugged-in mode, the McCourys will be joined by guitarist Cody Kilby, a 20-something who has put in some eight years in Ricky Skaggs’ band.
Forming the Travelin’ McCourys doesn’t mean the Del McCoury Band has hit the end of its road. Their second annual Delfest, next month in Maryland, features a lineup of top acts like Leftover Salmon and Sam Bush, plus three sets by the Del McCoury Band and another by the Travelin’ McCourys. The group has a busy summer of festivals planned, and is working on a new CD. And the biggest news is a five-CD box set, set for release May 12, of material Del has sung through his career, including some 30 newly recorded songs.
Where this all leads the McCourys is uncertain. “I’m one of those guys ” things happen the way they’re supposed to,” said Ronnie. “So I don’t make plans. But I am prepared. We’re looking to the future. It’s time to go out and see what we can get into.”
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