The 10th annual DelFest was for many a Memorial Day reunion, for some a new tradition, and for everyone, a singular opportunity to celebrate beloved bluegrass and Americana acts, family (both blood and music related), and a growing festival that is quickly gaining the reputation of an unparalleled music experience on the East Coast.
What makes DelFest stand out so much, Deltopians will agree, is the community-sparked feeling of acceptance, love and companionship, which is found in every interaction, in the traditions that people create (think Bloody Mary parties, river-floating adventures), and the camp-neighborhoods that make the Allegany County Fairgrounds home for the long weekend, inspiring the late-night fireside pickin’ with neighbors, and memories to hold onto until the next year.
This year the lineup was unique, and packed with surprises that made it difficult to walk away from the music at any point. The festival kicked off early on Thursday, with the classic Del McCoury soundcheck, which the public asked to be brought back after noticing its absence on the schedule. The love between the McCoury Family and their fanbase shines through in this simple act, because when you are at DelFest you’re not just a fan, you, too, are a part of the McCoury Family.
DelFest warmed up on Thursday with sets by Dead Man Winter (featuring Dave Simonett of Trampled with Turtles), River Whyless, Steep Canyon Rangers and The Del McCoury Band with Dan Auerbach (Black Keys), Preservation Horns of New Orleans, Jon Fishman and Ronnie Bowman. River Whyless truly impressed with their poignant sound, coined as “baroque folk” or “nature pop.” Del McCoury offered his exceptional high tone during the Steep Canyon Rangers set for “So Happy I’ll Be.” Late night sets included Fruition and Cabinet, burgeoning bluegrass acts that contain so much raw energy and talent; when put within such an extraordinary lineup, it is exciting to consider what the future will hold for them.
Friday saw rays of hot sunshine peeking through the clouds all day, and a full schedule of music that was not to be missed. Kitchen Dwellers and Joe Craven & The Sometimers kicked things off in the morning on the two outdoor stages, while Grand Ole’ Ditch collected crowds in the Music Hall. River Whyless took the stage for a second time, and Noam Pikelny of The Punch Brothers played a unique solo set awing the crowds with his exceptional, Grammy-award winning banjo picking. Friday also saw acts like Cris Jacobs, Fruition, and Sierra Hull, who performed with the Del Academy winner, 9-year-old Sophia Sparks, and the second sets for Cabinet and Dead Man Winter. The evening brought the much-awaited set from Trey Anastasio Band, with a McCoury Family appearance on “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” and “Beauty Of My Dreams,” and an unforgettable “Dazed and Confused” with Jennifer Hartwick blowing the crowd away with the range of her vocals.
Day three of the music marathon kicked off with Grand Ole’ Ditch, and Sara Watkins and The Ballroom Thieves. Noam Pikelny took the stage once more, while Donna the Buffalo followed with their daytime set. Cris Jacobs and “The Belle of Del,” Sierra Hull, went on stage for their second sets, while Ghost of Paul Revere, the Jeff Austin Band and Kitchen Dwellers led the crowds into the mid-afternoon. Bela Fleck and Chris Thile opened with “Midnight Rider” in honor of the passing of Greg Allman, the news of which rippled through the crowd earlier in the day. The Travelin McCoury’s set featured Dierks Bentley, before Red Knuckles & The Trailblazers (the alter-ego of Hot Rize) and Leftover Salmon did their late-night sets.
As per DelFest Sunday tradition, Dre’s Gospel Collective kicked things off, followed by sets from Sara Watkins, Joe Craven & The Sometimers and Billy Strings. The last night of DelFest saw some truly amazing sets, like that of the Infamous Stringdusters’, which kicked off with “Scarlett Begonias,” and ended with “Jessica,” with a handful of amazing covers in between. Leftover Salmon’s set was one of the most talked about from the weekend, after their performance of Neil Young’s Harvest, Vince Herman celbrated his birthday by chucking corn into the crowd to honor the album. Before taking the stage with Gov’t Mule, Warren Haynes stepped out for an unforgettable rendition of “Down by the River,” with Leftover Salmon. Finally, Billy Strings kicked off the annual The Travelin McCoury’s Grateful Ball featuring Jeff Austin Band.
The countdown has begun for the next DelFest, as word continues to spread, the DelFest family continues to grow, and new and old artists return to the wonderful mountains of the Allegany County Fairgrounds, year after year.