Legendary Del McCoury Band Comes to Kutztown University March 20

Del McCoury Band

By Susan L. Peña

KUTZTOWN, Pa. – Fans of classic bluegrass will be delighted by the upcoming performance of the Del McCoury Band in Kutztown University’s Schaeffer Auditorium 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 20. The show is part of the KU Presents! series, which will continue with two more offerings this season.

Del McCoury, who performed as lead singer and rhythm guitarist with the late mandolinist/songwriter Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys in the early 1960s, has carried the torch for the genre Monroe created. At the same time, he has been moving it forward with his own original songs and his collaborations with country rocker Steve Earle and the eclectic, improvisational rock band Phish.

Known as one of the most-awarded stars in country music, McCoury has won nine International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) Entertainer of the Year trophies as well as numerous other IBMA awards, two Grammys for Best Bluegrass Album (2005, 2014) and in 2003, a membership in the cast of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tenn. In 2010, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a National Heritage Fellowship, the U.S. government’s highest honor in the folk and traditional arts. This was followed in 2015 by the Bluegrass Star Award from the Bluegrass Heritage Foundation.

McCoury’s reputation for excellence hinges not only on his immense talent, but on the stability and expertise of his band, which includes two of his sons – Ron on mandolin and Rob on banjo – and fiddler Jason Carter and upright bassist Alan Bartram. There has been only one personnel change since its founding.

The McCoury Band have been prolific recording artists since 1992. In 2009, they released a five-CD set, “Celebrating 50 Years of Del McCoury,” a landmark achievement. Their latest album is “Almost Proud” (2022) and they are about to release a new, still untitled album. McCoury, in a phone conversation, revealed that the title of one of the songs is “If You Talk in Your Sleep, Don’t Mention My Name.”

McCoury’s illustrious career began in York County, where McCoury was born in 1939. His older brother, a radio musician, taught him to play chords on the guitar very early in his childhood.

“He got a job and was making enough money so he could buy records and we used to play them; they were 78s,” McCoury said. “When I was 11, he bought a record by (the late, virtuoso banjo player) Earl Scruggs; and I decided that’s what I wanted to do.”

He learned to play the banjo by listening to the records and after honing his chops in bars in the Baltimore/D.C. area, he got his first break when Bill Monroe hired him in 1963. But Monroe needed a singer and guitarist at that time, so McCoury practiced up on the guitar and perfected his tenor vocals. He only returned to the banjo for one short job; since then, he has stuck with guitar and vocals. Having married while living in California, he and his wife moved back to York to raise their two boys.

Needing to support his growing family, McCoury began working day jobs in construction and the lumber industry, but started his own band, The Dixie Pals, in 1967, for which he wrote original songs. In 1981, his son Ron, age 14, joined the band and five years later, Rob also joined.

“We moved to Nashville in 1992,” McCoury said. “By then I was a full-time musician. Ricky Scaggs and his wife encouraged us to move there. We did a lot of TV and started winning awards. We kept our house in York, which we still have, and bought one in Nashville.”

In addition to his performing at many festivals and concert venues all over the country, McCoury founded his own festival in 2008. DelFest is held at the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, Md.  According to its website, “the festival originated from the desire to create a family-friendly music festival celebrating the rich legacy of McCoury Music while creating a forum for world-class musical collaborations and to showcase fresh new talent with a down-home feeling.” Held annually in May, it is produced in association with High Sierra Music.

While the festival had to be canceled in 2020 and 2021 because of the Covid pandemic, McCoury said, “it came back with a boom” in 2022. This year’s event will be held May 23-26.

The four younger members of the Del McCoury Band started their own band, The Travelin’ McCourys, with multi-instrumentalist Cody Kilby, in 2009. Since then, they divide their time between the two bands, and they have recorded and toured.

Tickets for the Del McCoury Band are $46; $41 for students and seniors and can be purchased at www.KutztownPresents.org or by calling the KU Presents! Box Office 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, at 610-683-4092. Established to be the center of cultural life at Kutztown University, KU Presents! serves the campus and community by bringing world-class live arts that entertain, educate and enrich.