10TH ANNUAL BIG SKY BIG GRASS FESTIVAL EXPERIENCE

"And let us not forget Rob McCoury’s monster solo on banjo or Cody Kilby’s unequalled guitar skills throughout the song.  A stroll with the Grateful Dead followed in the form of a mellow and masterful “Candyman”.  Some Grateful Grass with the McCourys, eh Keller?  Maybe that’s the next lineup?  Maybe?  Would that it could be so.  How marvelous would that be?  An entire show of Dead songs thrown down by Keller and the McCourys??  Magnificence!  “Something Else” came on the heels of “Candyman” and was followed by Mike Doughty’s “American Car” — both of which sounded stupendous.  As you might expect.  Keller was in great voice all night, too…made for a near perfect-sounding concert.  It was Alan Bartram’s turn up at the microphone next for “Messed Up Just Right” one of my very favorite songs from the Pick album. "

Del's boys: Ronnie & Rob are travelin' far & wide

Dan Craft   dcraft@pantagraph.com    Jan 14, 2016

DOROTHY ST. CLAIRE,  For The Pantagraph

DOROTHY ST. CLAIRE,  For The Pantagraph

Like father, like sons, to be sure. 

But sometimes the chips off the old block will fall where they may, due to circumstances beyond their immediate control.

"Actually, this has been going on for about five years now," notes Ronnie McCoury, one of the chips off that solid, silvery McCoury oak known as Del, towering in the bluegrass forest of legend alongside the likes of Bill Monroe, Lester Flatt and  Earl Scruggs.

Ronnie is referring to a group known as The Travelin' McCourys, billed as "80 percent of the Del McCoury Band," since four out of five people in it — Ronnie, kid bro' Rob, fiddler Jason Carter and bass player Alan Bartram— hail from same.

When these fellow bluegrass travelers take to the stage of the Castle Theatre Friday night, they'll be following three prior Castle shows involving both McCoury configurations: Del's band in 2011 and 2012; Del's boys' band in 2014 and, now, this weekend.

So which McCoury band is which, musically speaking?

"We like to go in and play traditional bluegrass music the way we do with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out," says big bro' Ronnie, who joined papa Del's band in 1981, at age 14.

"If we need to plug in, we'll plug in. We're open to anything."

We interrupt this plug for the Travelin' McCourys to reassure fans of papa Del that the old man's band is alive and well and kicking, with the 9th all-star edition of DelFest, his namesake Memorial Day weekend music fest, now ranked as one of the country's top roots music destinations, set for 2016 in Maryland.

"What happened," explains his good son, "is that Dad started looking at his age, which was around 72 at the time (he'll turn 77 in February). His mother lived until her mid-80s, but his dad passed at 72."

With that specter of mortality suddenly looming, "he started thinking about things and he thought maybe it would be a good time for us to get out of the nest and try to have our own band."

Fast-forward five years ... to now.

Of course, you can't keep a good musician down ... seventysomething or no. And Del has kept the original band, sons included, going strong, though scaled back to about 50 dates a year, or an average of one a week. 

"Dad is not one to sit still or retire, and that's the way it's gone ... he's still got an incredible voice and his musicianship is still great," notes Ronnie, 48.

"What's astonishing is that, because when we've been gone (with the Travelin' McCourys), he's been given the freedom to do all these collaborations, like the duet he did with Sam Bush two years ago."

So much for Dad's retreat.

As for the Travelin' McCourys, they've kept logging miles begun half a decade ago. Fresh off a Grand Ole Opry show just several nights before his GO! interview, Ronnie says the group has just entered a new phase with the addition this past fall of flat-picking prodigy Cody Kilby, who was off and running in his teens, straight into a 14-year run with Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder.

He's also a highly sought-after studio player, most recently on Beck's Grammy-winning critical/popular success, "Morning Phase."

Prior to Kilby's joining, they'd kept the guitar slot vacated by Del open on a kind of revolving door basis, extending invitations to an array of ace friends and fans like Jeff White, Ronnie Bowman, String Cheese Incident's Billy Nershi, Alison Krauss Band's Dan Tyminski and Infamous Stringdusters' Andy Falco.

"We've enjoyed playing with so many guitar players we know," Ronnie says, but, he adds, the stability that has come with a permanent flat-picker of Kilby's prowess has upped their ante.

That began at last year's DelFest, where the pact was sealed.

"I guess we had our 'a-ha!' moment there .... we were on stage and it was like a light bulb went on," Ronnie says.

"With Cody, we really have the perfect combination: a great player, and he fits perfectly with what we do — straddling the fence between traditional and progressive. No matter what we throw at him, he can handle it."

Meanwhile, the brothers McCoury play on, and on ... on either side of the McCoury fence, with no end in sight.

"I've been in a band pretty much all my life," says Ronnie, "and I'll be coming on 35 years since I joined Dad's band. But neither of us was ever pushed or pressured by him to become musicians."

Ronnie was born March 16, 1967, in York County, Pa., where he lived until he was 24, then relocated with his wife Allison to Nashville, which is home to this day.

The McCoury boys were weaned on bluegrass, courtesy the many pickin’ parties held at the house, along with rehearsals that Del would have with his band of the era, the Dixie Pals.

Around age 13, after attending a show with his Dad where he saw Bill Monroe perform, Ronnie decided that, OK, yes, he wanted to be a chip off the old block and play some serious bluegrass mandolin (he'd taken violin lessons as a kid, but didn't keep at it).

Ronnie practiced on his mandolin for six months, soon followed by Del asking his son to fill it a recently vacated mandolin slot in his band.

That was on May 28, 1981; the slot has remained filled since.

Ronnie McCoury is more than happy to continue in that long-term role, but he's also happy to be a Travelin' man, too.

In Del's band, "Dad is always the front guy, it's his show, and it's him who keeps the crowd in the palm of his hand all the time," says Ronnie.

Sans Del, "it's something me and the other guys have had to learn how to do, even though we've been play his shows for so long. It's fun for us to figure out a bunch of stuff ...  the ways we can stretch out on our own." 

Travelin' men

Comprising the five members of The Travelin' McCourys are:

  • Ronnie McCoury, mandolin: See accompanying interview
  • Rob McCoury, banjo: Full name actually Robin (not Robert); four years Ronnie's junior; joined papa Del's band in 1987, six years after Ronnie; played bass for a year before switching to the banjo he picks to this day.
  • Cody Kilby, guitar: Bona fide bluegrass prodigy, winning awards as teen; member of Grand Ole Opry at 16; spent 14 years Ricky Skaggs' ace flatpicker with Kentucky Thunder; started travelin' with the McCourys last fall.
  • Jason Carter, fiddler: Picked up the fiddle and never put it down one day after hearing Del at age 16; in 1992, asked Del for a job, auditioned, has been there ever since; now with Travelin McCourys, too.
  • Alan Bartram, bass: Began music career with The Kenny & Amanda Smith Band; joined Del's band in 2005; followed Ronnie, Rob and Jason to Travelin McCourys in 2011.

Follow Dan Craft on Twitter: @pg_dcraf

 

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Big news!

Acclaimed band, The Travelin’ McCourys have started a new chapter in their book with the announcement that their guitar chair will be permanently filled by long-time friend and fan favorite, Cody Kilby.

Travelin' McCourys join Strings & Sol

We are thrilled to be a part of Strings & Sol in Puerto Morelos, Mexico December 11-15. We'll be playing with our buddy Keller Williams along with a great lineup including Yonder Mountain String Band, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, and Greensky Bluegrass. 

Win Backstage VIP passes to New Years Eve!

Our friends at Relix Magazine are giving away a pair of VIP backstage tickets for our New Years show at Marathon Music Works with The Del Mccoury Band and Keller Williams. They are also giving away a pair of general admission tickets. Happy Holidays and good luck! WIN TICKETS HERE!

Keller sings about New Years Eve with The McCourys

Keller Williams is getting excited to ring in 2013 with The Del McCoury Band and The Travelin' McCourys in Nashville at Marathon Music Works.  He's so excited, he's started singing its praises.

Get your tickets HERE!

New Years in Nashville!

The New Years Eve Extravaganza has been announced in Nashville!  Joining the party at Marathon Music Works is The Del Mccoury Band and Keller Williams with The Travelin' McCourys.

Lineup Change for "A Tribute to Bill Monroe"

Due to health issues, this week’s performances of “A Tribute to Bill Monroe” will feature Cody Kilby along with Peter Rowan and The Travelin' McCourys.  Tony Rice will be unable to play on Thursday, November 29th in Wilmington, NC and Friday, November 30th in Roanoke, VA. We wish Tony a speedy recovery and hope to see him back on stage soon!

Cody Kilby, lead guitarist for Ricky Skaggs’ Kentucky Thunder Band is a musical prodigy.  He had a Gibson endorsement on banjo at the age of 13, and by 17 he was the National Flatpicking Champion.  In his teans he also added dobro and mandolin to his arsenal. Bruce Hornsby calls him “a freak of nature” and Ricky Skaggs says “he’s something special” and “plays some of the best guitar solos I’ve heard in Bluegrass Music.”

Show Info:

Thursday, November 29th

University of North Carolina at Wilmington

Wilmington, NC - 8pm

Friday, November 30th

Jefferson Center - Shaftman Performance Hall

Roanoke, VA - 8pm

Keller Williams and The Travelin' McCourys release PICK on July 3

Pick, to be released July 3, 2012 on SCI Fidelity Records, is the debut collaboration of Keller Williams and The Travelin’ McCourys. Pre-Orders for the album begin May 18th at www.KellerMcCoury.com (also www.kellerwilliams.net and www.travelinmccourys.com). Those who pre-order Pick automatically get 2 entries into the Pick Me! sweepstakes, where one lucky person will win an all-expenses-paid trip for two to Nashville to hang with Keller, Del and The Travelin’ McCourys at their just-announced 2012 New Year’s Eve extravaganza at Marathon Music Works.  Pick Me! and New Year’s Eve show details available at www.KellerMcCoury.com.

It’s only after you hear Pick that you come to the inescapable realization that this is a meeting that was predestined. Williams, the über-distinctive singer-songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who’s been described as a “one-man band for the new millennium,” is a tireless musical seeker for whom repetition is never an option. And The Travelin’ McCourys - bluegrass royalty nonpareil with a sharp eye toward innovation - have similarly been dubbed “twenty-first century musical pilgrims and adventurers.”

Pick, is a classic case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts—although the parts are rather massive on their own, to be sure. Recorded at Nashville’s famed Butcher Shoppe studios, the album’s dozen songs (both originals and covers) fully realize Americana music’s long storytelling tradition, and the impeccable musicianship displayed on Pick captures all of the heart and heartache of the bluegrass genre—and then some: Williams’ unconventional songwriting takes on even greater weight when backed by The Travelin’ McCourys’ emotive tones. Inspired by Keller’s fearless creativity, The Travelin’ McCourys’ flawless playing gains new depth.

Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys will perform together at select summer festivals.  The list of these very special shows is included below.

“I can hardly believe what a blast this collaboration has been so far,” says Williams. “To be in the presence of The Travelin' McCourys is to be in the presence of greatness. Sometimes you'll catch us trying not to smile when we play, just to make sure that at least some of the time the music takes precedence over the joy of playing it!”

With decades on the bluegrass circuit under their belt, The Travelin’ McCourys— Rob McCoury on banjo, Ronnie McCoury on mandolin, Jason Carter on fiddle and Alan Bartram on bass—approach their craft with simultaneous reverence for the bluegrass tradition (Ronnie and Rob are the sons of bluegrass icon Del McCoury) and an insatiable desire to move the music forward. Their tight rhythmic sense, jaw-dropping chops and soulful material, performed with an unshakable confidence, takes bluegrass from the safe confines of its predetermined shore into uncharted waters. They’ve played with the Allman Brothers Band, Phish, Warren Haynes and the Lee Boys—not exactly bluegrassers—and are constantly looking for new ways to redefine themselves.

“We like to play traditional bluegrass music the way we do it with Dad, but we also like to be able to step into situations where we can really stretch out,” Ronnie told JamBase. “If we need to plug in, we’ll plug in. We’re open to anything.”

That they were open to teaming with Keller Williams is no surprise. Over the course of his two-decade career, Williams has ceaselessly followed his singular muse, both in a live setting—where he might accompany himself on any number of instruments and electronics—and in the studio, where he’s recorded everything from reggae to rock to experimental music to children’s songs to, of course, bluegrass. Thief, Keller’s 2010 recording with the Keels, reached number #1 on Billboard’s bluegrass chart while last year’s Bass found him utilizing only that instrument throughout the album. Predictability? Not in his vocabulary.

On Pick, Keller Williams—armed this time only with acoustic guitar and a microphone—and The Travelin’ McCourys shine on a dozen tracks that perfectly demonstrate their collective reach, including several new Williams and band-written originals and a handful of surprise but choice covers, including My Morning Jacket’s “Amazed,” Steve Earle’s “The Graveyard Shift” and singer-songwriter Jessie J’s “Price Tag.” The album’s finale, Williams’ “Bumper Sticker,” benefits from a special guest appearance by the man himself, the 73-year-old legend Del McCoury. While the familiar elements of both Keller’s and the McCourys’ music are all in place, the sound that emerges from the troupe collectively takes all of the participants into fresh musical places, where tunefulness meets mystery, virtuosity, daring and a blast of a good time.

Pick is about good pickin’, but it’s about something more: what transpires when two seemingly disparate musical entities find that they have something special to say when they join forces. Pick will surely go down as one of the top picks of 2012 by many an awestruck fan and discriminating critic.

Keller Williams and The Travelin’ Mccourys special summer festival stops:

Friday, May 18 Dominion Riverrock at Brown's Island Richmond VA

Saturday, May 26 DelFest Cumberland MD (with special Keller Solo Set)

Friday, June 1 Mountain Jam Hunter NY

Saturday, June 2 Wakarusa Ozark AR

Thursday, June 28 Electric Forest Rothbury MI

Tuesday, July 3 Lake Superior Big Top Chautauqua Washburn WI

Friday, July 6 Deadwood Mountain Grand Deadwood SD

Friday, August 17 The River Roots Live Music Festival Davenport, IA

Friday, September 14 Jomeokee Arts and Music Festival Pinnacle, NC

Plus,

Monday, December 31 Marathon Music Works Nashville, TN

New Year’s Eve extravaganza with sets by Del McCoury Band, Keller Williams

(solo), and Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys

Additional dates to be confirmed.

Keep up to date on all things Keller Williams with The Travelin’ McCourys and Pick at www.KellerMcCoury.com

For Keller Williams info and tour dates:

www.kellerwilliams.net

http://www.facebook.com/kellerwilliams

http://twitter.com/#!/KellerMusician

For The Travelin’ McCourys info and tour dates:

www.thetravelinmccourys.com

http://www.facebook.com/TheTravelinMcCourys