Dispatches from Delfest

Welcome to Dispatches from Delfest, a running discourse in words and photos of all that’s happening at one of the country’s premier bluegrass and Americana festivals, hosted by bluegrass legend Del McCoury in Cumberland, Md.

Del McCoury has been the driving force behind Delfest, a bluegrass festival in its 11th year. (All photos by Costa Swanson)

Part 1: Thursday: Let’s get the party started.

Delfest begins each year with the Del McCoury soundcheck – an informal jam session by the Del McCoury Band held on the festival’s main stage.

One of the big buzzworthy events of the weekend is the release of The Del McMcCoury Band’s new album “Del McCoury Still Sings Bluegrass.”The warm up didn’t include any of the new music, instead McCoury took requests from the audience including Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms, Henry Walker, and Heavy Traffic Ahead.

Magic Tones

The soundcheck concluded with a performance by Magic Tones, winners of the Delfest Academy’s battle of the bands competition. Celebrating its 10th year, the academy takes place the week leading up to the Delfest and consists of workshops taught by some of the biggest names in bluegrass.

Infamous Stringdusters

The Infamous Stringdusters pulled off a really nice set in the headlining spot Thursday night. This marked their third consecutive Delfest visit, and seventh overall. They’re a true crowd favorite. Some highlights from the set include some mad mandolin work on “Peace of Mind,” an absolute burner of Phish’s “Possum,” and a drop in from Ronnie McCoury and Cody Kilby for a birthday tribute to Bob Dylan on “Don’t Think Twice, it’s Alright.”

Part 2: Friday: Joe Craven gives a Grateful Wake up to Delfest

Joe Craven

Joe Craven and the Sometimers rolled out an early treat for those recovered enough from Thursday night’s shenanigans to catch the opening set Friday morning.

With a bellowing rooster crow, Delfest’s resident M.C. traded in his clipboard for a mandolin (and fiddle, bongos, cowbell and other percussives) and did a set of Grateful Dead/Jerry Garcia tunes, reimagined in tempo and style, to the delight of the gathering throng.

Starting off with a funk-rock version of “Shady Grove,” Craven boosted the tempo on the Grisman/Garcia classic with some fast picking mandolin.

The Sometimers followed with “I Know You Rider” featuring guitarist Bruce MacMillan on vocals. They moved into a medley mixing percussive segments of Paul Simon’s “The Obvious Child” in and out of Garcia’s “Crazy Fingers,” spiked with a little bit of Craven beat boxing and banging on a cowbell.

From there the bend went in to “Friend of the Devil” with lead vocals from bassist Jonathan Stoyanoff, before moving off the Garcia themed set for Doc Watson’s “Walk on Boy” and a cover of The Sherilles “Will You Still love Me Tomorrow?,” sung by Craven’s daughter, Hattie.

Craven talked onstage about working with Garcia from 1989-1994 and working on a project celebrating his musical legacy.

The show wrapped up with another pair from the Dead – “Franklin’s Tower” played fairly close to the original style, and “Scarlet Begonias” in a somewhat calypso style with some nice bongo work that flavored it up nicely.