Mitchell County Highway Named in Honor of Bluegrass Legend Del McCoury
October 26th, 2013 Ceremony Planned
Bluegrass legend Del McCoury will become a part of Mitchell County lore when a stretch of Hwy. 261 north of Bakersville bears his name. A ceremony to commemorate the naming of the road will take place on Oct. 26 starting at 9:30 a.m. at Lavonia Crest north of Bakersville.
McCoury, guitarist, a lead vocalist, and leader of the Del McCoury Band, is scheduled to attend the event, as well as North Carolina Governor Pat McCrory. “He is world-famous in bluegrass and has a childhood connection with Mitchell County,” said Mitchell County Board of Commissioners Chair Bill Slagle.
McCoury was born in York, Pa., but both his parents and his wife’s parents are Mitchell County natives. “Del McCoury has deep roots in WNC,” said Mitchell County Chamber Director Shirley Hise. “He is related to a lot of folks here. He is one of the most accomplished and renowned bluegrass musicians in the United States.” Hise said McCoury identifies with the community and with the state of North Carolina.
“McCoury’s name is synonymous with bluegrass,” said Angie Chandler, Executive Director of Blue Ridge National Heritage Area Partnership, which is collaborating with counties in Western North Carolina and the North Carolina Arts Council to develop the Blue Ridge Music Trails of North Carolina.
“Our mountains and foothills have a national reputation as a music-rich region, and our traditions of old-time string band music, ballad singing, and bluegrass are internationally renowned,” she said. “No other area of the country has had more impact on the development of the banjo as a bluegrass instrument than here in Western North Carolina. Del McCoury has exemplified that musical heritage through his 50-year career, his ability to appeal to younger and older audiences, and his innovation of various musical styles.”
McCoury is honored by the attention. He said he has a National Endowment of the Arts National Heritage Fellowship, is a member of the Grand Ole Opry, and is in the Bluegrass Hall of Fame, but this is something more. “It is a great honor to have a road named after you,” he said. “That stands forever.”
McCoury said he wished his father were alive to see the highway get named for him.
He himself never lived in Mitchell County, but he did get to visit quite a bit. His father’s family was from Glen Ayre and his mother’s family was from Buladean.
McCoury traces his musical heritage back to his family. He remembers a tale about his mom’s father playing fiddle at the Cloudland Hotel, which was located at the top of Roan Mountain, and said the lore is part of his family heritage. “I’ve heard my kin folks talk about all those things,” he said.
The Del McCoury Band Releases
The Streets of Baltimore
Available in Stores and online September 17
“The picture on the cover, that’s Broadway in Baltimore, maybe back around the time I started playing in the clubs,” Del McCoury says with a smile. Then he adds, just before breaking into his signature, eyebrow-wiggling laugh, “Back then, you could get anything you needed down there—and a lot of things you didn’t need, too!”
It’s a long way from his apprenticeship in those Baltimore honky tonks in the late 1950s to his stature as the ultimate bluegrass ambassador today, but Del McCoury’s negotiated the path with enough perseverance, humility, good humor, adventurousness—not to mention talent and enthusiasm—to last a lifetime. Along the way, he’s earned not just the applause, but the passionate devotion of fans ranging from old-timers who remember those early days to country aficionados drawn in by his collaborations with Dierks Bentley, Charlie Daniels and Vince Gill to tie-dye-clad youngsters who’ve just learned about him from hearing artists like Phish and the Yonder Mountain String Band rave about—and perform—his music.
And lest you think that the open-mindedness that’s led McCoury into so many surprising collaborations and contexts comes from the younger generation, heed the words of Ronnie McCoury, who says of The Streets Of Baltimore, “That one’s all Dad’s!” And indeed, with sons Ronnie and Rob and their Del McCoury Band colleagues Jason Carter and Alan Bartram spending more time touring as The Travelin’ McCourys, the job of choosing songs for the album fell squarely on Del’s shoulders—and judging by the results, it’s clear that Del McCoury’s as creatively inspired as ever.
Where the Del McCoury Band’s last two projects—2012’s tribute to Bill Monroe (Old Memories) and 2011’s collaboration with the Preservation Hall Band, American Legacies —were built around themes, The Streets Of Baltimore shows McCoury and his award-winning band at their most relaxed and free-form. “I just put together a group of songs that I liked,” says Del. “And then we got into the studio and tried to make them sound good!”
Still, it’s not hard to see how the new album is shaped by the musical memories acquired and lessons learned starting back in McCoury’s Baltimore days. For one thing, as a reminder of how tightly entwined bluegrass and country music were at the time, there’s a healthy dose of songs from the country repertoire, including the title track (a 1966 country hit for Bobby Bare), “Too Many Rivers” (a crossover hit for Brenda Lee in 1965 and recorded by dozens of country singers at the time) and “Once More With Feeling,” a massive hit for Jerry Lee Lewis that reminds us that McCoury and his band were called on to perform when “The Killer” was honored in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame’s American Music Masters series a few years ago. And while pop and jazz fans know “Misty” as an entry in the “Great American Songbook,” Del and the boys give an affectionate nod here to country singer and humorist Ray Stevens, whose banjo-driven version of the song scraped the top of the country charts nearly 40 years ago.
But while there’s a lot of looking back on The Streets Of Baltimore, McCoury turned to some favorite contemporary writers, too, to keep things grounded in the here and now. Long-time song supplier Mike O’Reilly is accounted for with the album’s opener, Shawn Camp and friends sent in the timeless waltz, “I Wanna Go Where You Go,” occasional co-writer Jerry Salley teamed up with Donna Ulisse for a gripping Civil War story and Verlon Thompson contributed the pensive meditation, “I Need More Time.” Del expands the circle, too, giving hit artists and songwriters Larry Cordle and Steve Wariner, along with Country Hall of Famer Bill Anderson, their first McCoury cuts. There’s even room for a McCoury original that sports a characteristically generous, upbeat take on a fundamental gospel message.
Yet if McCoury cast a wide net to haul in the songs for this album, the performances are as distinctive, and as tightly focused as ever. Years of constant musical companionship have made the Del McCoury Band among the most renowned ensembles in any kind of music, and every number on the album shows off their unmatched precision and empathy for the material. Meanwhile, Del’s magnificent voice soars, whispers, pleads and rings out with just the right feeling for each song, recalling Jerry Lee Lewis’s slippery ways on “Once More With Feeling,” coloring the opening lines of “Butler Brothers” with foreboding and injecting the slightest tinge of nostalgia in tackling a bluegrass reworking of a doo-wop classic from his youth.
All in all, then, The Streets Of Baltimore is a masterful performance—exactly what one would expect from a close-knit, supremely talented group led by a man universally acknowledged as a national treasure. It’s a long way from the streets of Baltimore to where Del McCoury’s music has taken him these days, but today, just as he was then, Del McCoury is right where he needs—and wants—to be.
Del Yeah Weekend
Featuring The Del McCoury Band (headlining both nights)
Big Sam’s Funky Nation, The Bluegrass Ball featuring The Travelin’ McCourys and Andy Falco (Infamous Stringdusters), Head for the Hills, Whitewater Ramble, Henhouse Prowlers and more!
Saturday, August 24 & Sunday, August 25
Old Rock House
St. Louis, MO
The idea of Del Yeah is to create a festival atmosphere in an outdoor setting or otherwise non-traditional venue complete with impromptu jams and unscheduled collaborations.
The World Premier of “Del and Woody: The Del McCoury Band Sings previously unreleased songs of Woody Guthrie”
On Saturday, June 29 at The Caramoor Center for Music and the Arts – Venetian Theater, The Del McCoury Band will headline Caramoor’s American Roots Music Festival – a daylong celebration of folk, string band, country, blues, gospel, and bluegrass music. The concert will mark the world premiere and the only New York performance of The Del McCoury Band’s new project, “Del & Woody” featuring unheard and unsung words of Guthrie set to music by Del himself. To help bring new life to the work of American folk poet Woody Guthrie, his daughter, Nora Guthrie, gave Del McCoury exclusive access to the archives of her father’s unpublished work. Now, with the support of Woody Guthrie’s family, The Del McCoury Band will perform an evening of never-before-heard lyrics written by the “Dust Bowl Troubadour” set to new music by Del McCoury and including a multi-media presentation featuring Guthrie’s original words, drawings and other materials from the archives that inspired this performance. In addition, McCoury, will perform his trademark Bluegrass standards and favorites.