Tonight, a legend comes out to play. Del McCoury, the International Bluegrass Association’s Entertainer of the Year for seven of the past 10 years, is playing for the folks at the Vilar Center in Beaver Creek today at 7:30 p.m.
The Del McCoury Band is considered the first family of bluegrass. Guitarist and lead vocalist Del is joined by his sons, Ronnie McCoury (mandolin and vocals) and Rob McCoury (banjo). Jason Carter (fiddle, vocals) and Mike Bub (bass and vocals) don’t share blood, but Del considers them family, too.
“The band is really half my age,” said the 67-year-old Del. “So they keep the music fresh. And playing different venues – that keeps me young.”
“When we joined dad’s band, it was sink or swim,” remembered Rob. “You had to do it – it was the real thing.”
That sense of authenticity is something Del has worked hard to preserve, as it’s what first interested him in bluegrass. He discovered Bill Monroe and Flatt and Scruggs, and he was hooked.
“I didn’t know at the time that I was listening to the best,” he said. “Course, I know that now.”
This was the time of pre-rock and roll, just before Elvis hit the scene. The music was alive, and Del answered the siren song of it.
“It had that fire, that all of the music of the day didn’t have,” he said. “I think that’s what kids look for at a certain age. It just stings you, and that’s what caught my ear.”
After starting out listening to the best, there wasn’t a lot of music he could graduate to. So he began playing his own, and continues to do so. He declares himself without influences now, save for the folks in his band.
“I don’t have any influences now,” he said. “Different music doesn’t really enthuse me the way it used to. When you get to my age, it just doesn’t excite me. My band does, but not other groups.”
Though Del has the big name in the group, he’s not the only one recognized by crowds and critics alike. As he’s wont to say, if he doesn’t win anything, they do.
Del used to write more songs, but since there are so many good songwriters in Nashville, he’s all but stopped.
“We get great sons all the time,” he said. “It kind of makes me lazy. I’m never looking for a certain thing. But you hear one – maybe it’s been around forever, or maybe it’s brand new – and you think, “Man, where has that song been all my life?'”
Of course, it’s Del’s fiery interpretation that often gives it its heat.
The musician is so busy, he never solicits work. It seems to drop on him. Along with Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris and Earl Scruggs, the Del McCoury Band recorded two songs with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band for their “Will the Circle Be Unbroken, Volume 3.” They’ve also collaborated with The Chieftains.
“With the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, we san two songs I’ve sung before,” said Del. “And I sang them just like I did 30 years ago.”
He promises concert attendees that the Del they know and love will be in appearance – there will be no new directions or genre bending for the group. It’s true blue – true bluegrass, anyway.
So what can folks expect tonight?
“Wren, we never write out a program for a show,” he said. “We get up there, and whatever they request, if it’s one of our songs, we do. It keep the show interesting. People have paid to get in, and it’s their show. So tell them to think a little about what they want to hear, and be ready to call it out.”