If bluegrass music is your jam, then you’re likely familiar with revered Grammy winner, Del McCoury. A pioneer in roots music, McCoury got his start singing and playing rhythm guitar with Bill Monroe’s “Blue Grass Boys” in 1963. After years of touring and recording, he brought his teenage sons, Ronnie and Rob, into his band, thus planting the seeds of what would grow into “The Travelin’ McCourys.”
Get ready for an evening of high energy stompin,’ dancin’ and clappin’ when “The Travelin’ McCourys” roll into Savannah with their internationally acclaimed roots, bluegrass and Americana sound Tuesday, April 25, downtown at District Live.
In the mid-2000s, Del McCoury began thinking about how the music he loved would carry forward when he could no longer perform. That’s when he urged his sons and band mates to start thinking about the future. In Nashville in 2009, at the behest of McCoury himself, “The Travelin’ McCourys” took to the road. Long-time bassist in both bands, Alan Bartram, considers how it began.
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“We all play together with Del, and in time it will be inevitable he can’t play with us any longer,” reflected Bartram. “Whenever that time comes, he wanted us to have a plan in moving forward. And we all agreed we wanted this to be something different from just the ‘Del McCoury Band’ minus Del.”
Though the band draws heavily from the traditional bluegrass catalog, a Travelin’ McCourys show is more like a freewheeling romp through a range of genres. They write their own music plus cover a variety of rock, country and contemporary hits. They’ve also made inroads with the jam band community — think “String Cheese Incident” and “Phish” — and frequently perform bluegrass-hued covers of Grateful Dead songs.
“We really like covering good songs from any genre, then putting our bluegrass twist on it,” emphasized Bartram. “Not long ago I saw “The Killers” covering “The Whole of the Moon” by this Scottish rock band, “The Waterboys.” It’s just a really good, up-tempo, yet thoughtful song, so we’ve worked that one into our set.”
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But it’s their original music that makes them shine. Their tune “I Like Beer” starts out a humorous waltz in tribute to the good ol’ hops and barley, but then switches into fast pickin’ mode when the time signature goes into an overdriving four on the floor beat. The tune not only features the band’s remarkable musicianship but also highlights their ability for multiple, catchy turns of phrase.
Each May, they’re part of Del Fest, an annual roots and bluegrass-focused music festival in Cumberland, Md., that Del McCoury and friends started 16 years ago. At the festival “The Travelin’ McCourys” have collaborated with musicians like Keller Williams, Jeff Austin, Bill Nershi and most recently, Tyler Childers.
“Del Fest is one of the biggest events of the year for us,” said Bartram. “Last year we backed up Tyler Childers when he did a bluegrass-centric set. That was incredibly special to be part of. The music and experience were top notch, and it was an honor to be on the stage. Anytime we’re part of Telluride Bluegrass Festival, that’s also incredible, especially when many of your peers and heroes are listening and watching. It becomes intense.”
The Travelin’ McCourys are slated to play roughly 65 shows in 2023, including a run of festivals this summer. The band is currently in the studio working on a series of singles to be released this spring and throughout the year with a full album to debut in early 2024. The current members include: Ronnie McCoury, Mandolin; Robbie McCoury, banjo; Alan Bartram, upright bass; Jason Carter, fiddle; Cody Kilby, guitar.
“For those not familiar, our show has something for anyone interested in bluegrass,” emphasized Bartram. “We do super traditional songs, original ones, and interesting takes on covers. Plus, what we do is family friendly—at festivals and outdoor shows lots of folks bring their kids. But for this one in Savannah, you might want to call the baby sitter and make it a date to remember with your significant other or a big group of friends.”
IF YOU GO
What: The Travelin’ McCourys
When: Tuesday, April 25, 8 p.m.
Where: District Live, 400 West River Street, Savannah
For ticket info: https://www.ticketmaster.com/travelin-mccourys-savannah-georgia-04-25-2023/event/0E005E46BAB63221?_ga=2.239025536.1850282258.1677448381-2085146727.1677448381