Del McCoury is perhaps the preeminent pillar of bluegrass music still active today. (Look no further than his eponymous music festival, DelFest, for proof.) However he is steeped in the genre’s origin and is incapable of ignoring fellow pioneers. In concert Saturday night at the City Winery, McCoury rattled off credits to songwriters and instrumentalists, stopped for trivia (Q: “Who recorded first with two fiddles?”; A: “Mac Wiseman”), and continually paid tribute to his lifelong influence, Bill Monroe.
Over two-hours McCoury promised to play only two new songs. One, “40 Acres and a Fool,” about a money-grubbing, exploitative neighbor, provoked cheers against speculative financiers. The rest of his pre-arranged set leaned heavy on classics while showcasing each band member. McCoury opened the rest of the night to requests, insisting only on alternating between fast and slow tunes. “Beauty of My Dreams” followed (which he remembered mostly as the song covered by Phish), as did “Rain and Snow”, “Queen Annes Lace”, “Blackjack County Chains”, and “1952 Vincent Black Lightening”.
While McCoury’s pure nasal tones carried much of the evening’s set, he was always bolstered by the clear three-part harmonies of his son Ronnie (on mandolin) and fiddle player Jason Carter. Bass player Alan Bartram even showed off a beautiful lilt, singing “Kentucky Walz”. In the bluegrass tradition the acoustic band danced around a pair of microphones at the front of the stage, naturally providing their own mix - trading melodies, solos, and harmonies to produce an elegant shuffle.