By Ben Olson
Brothers Ronnie and Rob McCoury were literally born into the bluegrass tradition. Their father, Del, is among the most influential musicians in the bluegrass genre, with his famed Del McCoury Band recognized as one of the most awarded and respected bluegrass bands in history.
Following in the tradition of the Del McCoury Band is The Travelin’ McCourys, a group that takes what Ronnie and Rob hold in their DNA and pushes the music forward into the next phase of bluegrass. While the McCoury brothers still play with Del’s band, they’ve taken The Travelin’ McCourys onto their own path to greatness, one string at a time.
The Travelin’ McCourys will play a special concert at the Panida Theater at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 25, with doors opening one hour before showtime.
With Ronnie on mandolin and Rob on the banjo, The Travelin’ McCourys is rounded out with fiddler Jason Carter, bassist Alan Bartram and Cody Kilby on guitar. To say each band member stands alone is an understatement. All five have been recognized with an International Bluegrass Music Association Award at least once, but together their collective output has captured the attention of not only a legion of fans, but critics as well.
The Travelin’ McCourys released a self-titled record in 2018, which ultimately won the Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album in 2019, cementing their place in the annals of bluegrass stardom.
While the Del McCoury Band generally sticks to the traditional roots of bluegrass music, The Travelin’ McCourys’ sound is both a nod to the old and an embrace of the new.
“It’s also allowed us to open up more on arrangements and extending our solos,” Ronnie told the Reader. “It’s been pretty gratifying to step out more.”
Rolling Stone called their performance at the annual DelFest, “a sublime combination of rock and bluegrass, contemporary and classic, old and young. The best set of the festival.”
“I reckon it’s natural for any art form to evolve into something different from the original, and then want to categorize the new styles and give them definition,” Bartram told the Reader when asked about how traditional bluegrass has evolved into new subgenres.
“The bluegrass instrumentation and the limits therein are what informs these later iterations,” he added.
The Travelin’ McCourys’ style of blending the best of the old in a new, progressive format has led to collaborations with some big names like the Allman Brothers Band, Phish, Keller Williams, String Cheese Incident and more. They also attend the Grateful Ball, an annual concert that brings together some of the biggest names in bluegrass.
When asked what it is about bluegrass that makes it such a great live music genre, Bartram said, “Part of it is certainly the music being mostly uptempo. A big part of it for me is the vibe of the listeners, many of which are players themselves.”
For The Travelin’ McCourys’ Panida show, Bartram said audience members can expect, “A mix of originals, blazing instrumentals and covers. There’s something for everyone. It’s a family friendly show that may introduce your young ones to an original American art form. I’d wager you’ll leave with some songs stuck in your head and your foot involuntarily tapping.”
“I’ve been playing in my dad’s band for 42 years now,” Ronnie said. “Practically everything I’ve learned in the music world has been from playing and traveling with him. Together we’ve seen his rise and accolades in the music world. We’ve had many collaborations and friendships along the way. My dad’s enjoyment on stage, his musicianship, his longevity and open mind are some things I’ll carry with me.”
Tickets are available starting at $34 at panida.org.