Live Feb. 8 at the Van Duzer Theater
If a creek could gather itself together into human form and walk onto a stage to pour forth its voice it would sound like the Del McCoury Band. There, the clear, crisp water pattering over hard rocks, merry and relentless as Rob McCoury's banjo headed pellmell toward more sorrow-tinged joy. There, the backwater eddy where Del McCoury steps back to proclaim, almost too cheerily, "Count me out of future plans you might be makin'/No more future chances am I takin'." There the frenetic rush toward the cliff, Ronnie McCoury's mandolin speeding up for the dash onto "Hillcrest Drive" where, perhaps, lives the beauty queen these simple old boys find too fine: "She's hard to hold for a simple man like me/When it comes her cocktail hour it's my Miller time." There, the steady forward movement of James Bartram's bass. And, there, the back-flipping riffles and waves of Jason Carter's fiddle.
They're polished, clean, bright, efficient and down-home ‚Äî five musicians blending strings and harmonies as perfectly as any watercourse that long ago found its channel and kept to it, in general, while still finding ways to meander and leap within it. And when they walk on stage ‚Äî like they did last Friday night at the Van Duzer ‚Äî they come at the audience straight away, all pompadours and grins, with perfect sound. And at first you think, this band's too slick, this band's been over this ground too many times to offer anything fresh.
But then it happens. Behind the polished melodies, you see that these guys are pleased to be having fun ‚Äî again. They've found their proper course. After that reassurance, you can just jump in and join the band. They practically invite it with the first song, or at least that's how it was last Friday night when Del sang, "Pick me up like some hitchhiker / take me off into the wild and blue / I don't care which way I'm goin' / Long as that's the way you're goin' too." Immediately after that he asked the crowd for requests.
The shouts came loud and boisterous, from up in the balcony, from the middle of the hall and from the dancing-in-his-seat dreadlocked guy in the front row: "John Henry! "Black Lightning!" "Uncle Pen!" And more.
"That's enough for a whole show!" retorted Del and everyone laughed. Then he plunged mischievously into a murder ballad no one had requested, "Eli Renfro," after announcing happily it was about a man who killed his wife.
Finally they played the song that had been most lustily hollered for from the crowd, "1952 Vincent Black Lightning," Del saying beforehand that "the best part of all is there's a redheaded girl in this story." And a motorcycle. And tragedy.
Maybe it was a little odd to watch this gray-haired, fine-coiffed gentleman, smiling so debonair and devilish at a crowd half-hippy and half-redneck ‚Äî collectively pure Humboldt ‚Äî without regard for differences. He presumed accord in the ranks, as any well-worn professional from North Carolina might who's too busy, besides, to brush up on the local history of every town he rolls through to entertain. Like a creek rushing by, he just did his thing and made it everyone's thing. At one point, when he riffed conversationally about the next tune he was going to play, "Logger Man," noted we had some pretty big trees around here, then asked, "You got a lot of folks around here that do logging?" there were plenty of whoops ‚Äî and no boos. Why, the crowd was so amenable to being entertained by this band that it laughed with deep affection each time Del forgot the words to a tune.
These guys may wear conservative gray suits with ties and sport slicked-back dos, but joy jumps from their fingers and makes people toss their orientation (toward trees, for instance) on the bank for a moment and jump into the swimming hole for a refreshing all-together-now frolic.