Show & Del
What defines a bluegrass song?
Some would say instrumentation, timing and origin.
But for bluegrass legend Del McCoury, music can't be pigeonholed. "Music comes from every direction," he said.
The expert guitarist, who first gained fame playing with Bill Monroe's Blue Grass Boys, is defined by his versatility, spanning genres and performing alongside musicians who wouldn't otherwise fit the bluegrass bill - musicians like jam stalwarts Phish and The String Cheese Incident, to name a couple.
On Friday, Oct. 29, he'll demonstrate this again, as the Del McCoury Band joins New Orleans' Preservation Hall Jazz Band for a show at Appalachian State University's Farthing Auditorium.
To McCoury, the marriage of bluegrass and jazz is only natural.
"When I was growing up, I never thought about that," he said. "I heard Bill Monroe and Earl Scruggs, that was my beginning. But some of those banjo tunes that Earl and Don Reno recorded, they were big band numbers. I didn't realize that either, at first, but it's where they came form."
McCoury also learned that some of bluegrass's greatest fiddlers keep an ear out for horn sections.
"When Kenny Baker was in Bill Monroe's band, Bill introduced him as the greatest fiddler in bluegrass," McCoury said. "That's something to live up to, ain't it? Kenny said, 'I can do things that I've heard nobody else do on the fiddle.' I asked, 'Where'd you get that,' and he'd say, ' I got that from Benny Goodman.' I said, 'Benny Goodman? He doesn't play bluegrass.'
"But there you go. It's all related somehow. People, I guess, get kind of narrow-minded about music, but it all goes back to who they heard when they were growing up."
Though the 71-year-old McCoury grew up to Monroe and Scruggs, he's heard countless other acts while growing as a musician. Just take the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, masters of New Orleans jazz from the Big Easy's legendary Preservation Hall.
After Hurricane Katrina wrought her havoc, McCoury's distributor asked if he'd like to record a song with Preservation Hall to cut a record to benefit disaster relief.
"I said I'd love to," McCoury said. "I went down there, sang about three songs ... but I got to know those guys. One thing led to another, and they said, 'Why don't we take both bands and put them together?'"
McCoury joined Preservation Hall Jazz Band for the New Orleans JazzFest several years in a row, even recording at Preservation Hall. "Then we decided we'd get serious about this and do an album," he said.
After performing in San Rafael, Calif., both bands visited San Francisco to record an album.
"And we made a record together," said McCoury, who just finished mixing the last few tracks last week in Nashville, Tenn. "And you know what? They really sound good, I'll tell you."
The album, yet to be named, features at least 13 tracks, some new, some old, but all with fresh combinations. Some feature each band performing solo, others with select members from each, and then some with the lot.
And both bands enjoyed performing together so much, they decided to keep touring.
"We did a show in Augusta, Ga., and we had standing ovations, one after another," McCoury said.
"So, Ben (Jaffe, director and tuba player for Preservation Hall) said, 'Where do we go from here?'"
The answer's simple.
"Boone," McCoury said. "That's where we go first, man."
McCoury's no stranger to the area, a regular installation at MerleFest in Wilkesboro and headlining act for Black Mountain's Del Yeah festival. He's also recorded shows for WNCW and will soon host a show from Charlotte with Cindy Baucom, host of the nationally syndicated Knee-Deep in Bluegrass.
In June, McCoury was named recipient of the National Heritage Fellowship Award, recognizing lifetime achievement, from the National Endowment for the Arts. McCoury and the band visited Washington, D.C. in September to accept the award and, naturally, were invited to perform - once at a congressman's retirement party, where they fittingly performed "White House Blues," and again at the Library of Congress.
Few people get to perform in a library, McCoury admitted, "and we were awful loud."
McCoury is grateful for the recognition, but also for the support from his ever-growing fans, otherwise known as Del-Heads (not to be confused with the Del McCoury bobblehead dolls).
"I don't know how that all got started, but I'm really thankful for those people, because they're really great fans," he said. "We have our own festival up in Cumberland, Md. (DelFest), and, of course, the Del-Heads all get together there. They're all just down to Earth people, you know?"
He can expect the same in Boone. And on Oct. 29, area Del-Heads can expect a solo show from the Del McCoury Band, a solo show from Preservation Hall Jazz Band, and then a combination of the two. "It's just a shame we won't have more time," McCoury said.
The Del McCoury Band and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band perform on Friday, Oct. 29, at 8 p.m. at ASU's Farthing Auditorium.
Advance tickets cost $20 for adults, $18 for seniors, ASU faculty and staff, and $10 for ASU students and students 18 and under. Ticket prices increase at the door on the night of the show.
For tickets or more information, call the Farthing Auditorium Box Office at (828) 262-4046 or visit http://www.pas.appstate.edu.