MANCHESTER, Tenn. — The bluegrass road warriors arrived under a cloud of showers Saturday afternoon (June 12) at the third annual Bonnaroo Music Festival. But the rumblings from the storm were nothing compared to the thunderous commotion the Del McCoury Band received when it walked up the ramp and on to the stage.
Thousands of young cheering fans crowded under a shaded tent while hundreds more who scattered on part of the 600-acre farm applauded enthusiastically.
“I know a lot of people don’t like it to be loud to where it kind of interrupts what they’re doing in playing and singing, but the louder they [audience] are, the better I do,” McCoury told CMT News.
“Before we walked on stage, you could just feel they were starting to get cranked up,” said mandolinist Ronnie McCoury.
“We’re pretty well received anywhere, but this crowd here, they’re real appreciative of what you’re doing,” said banjo player Rob McCoury.
It was the band’s second year to perform at the three-day Bonnaroo festival which this year drew in approximately 90,000 music fans from around the nation. Recalling the band’s first visit, McCoury said, “There was several people in the tent when we went on. And by the time we got done, man, they were as far out from under that tent in every direction as you could see, and they were requesting our songs. They’d hold up signs with ‘Don’t Stop the Music.’”
In fact, the enthusiasm was so intense that many of the songs recorded for a DVD of the show ultimately couldn’t be used. “We use the microphones that pick up sounds around the side,” McCoury said. He adds with a laugh, “It’ll pick up the audience sound really well — sometimes too well.”
The crowd of McCoury followers was not the usual group of bluegrass aficionados who gather for most of his concerts. The eclectic audience sported dreadlocks, donned Native American headbands and a colorful assortment of body piercings. But regardless of style or background, they all shared one thing in common: a respect for the bluegrass icon and his music.
“I know that they’ve heard some loud music,” McCoury, 65, said before going onstage. “Now, this music won’t be as loud, and it may be something different than some of these young people have ever heard before, I’m sure.”
Despite the age difference, it’s clear that McCoury has no problem connecting with the younger generation.
“Bluegrass is so energetic, and it’s youthful,” fan David Danforth said. “It’s fast, and it’s upbeat. It’s got a happy nature to it, and that’s what young people want to hear.”
“I’ve been impressed with the fact that he was picking with Bill Monroe back in the day,” said Tim Foley, a fan from Florida. Traveling companion Lyndsey Kelly added, “He [Del] has good energy. He keeps the crowd going. He’s getting up there in age, but he’s still got it.”
“I’ve seen him a lot,” Tiah Chestnut, a fan from Pennsylvania, noted. “I love him!”
“Those folks were really ready for us,” McCoury said after the show. “They were so enthusiastic, I couldn’t say nothing,” he chuckled, “because if I talked, they couldn’t hear me.”
“We’re playing our little acoustic instruments, and it’s a rock ‘n’ roll crowd,” Ronnie McCoury adds. “They made us feel like that anyhow.”
Still, it’s hard for the elder statesman of the group to explain the band’s immense youthful appeal.
“They know that we’re enjoying what we’re doing, and I think that’s a lot of it,” McCoury says. “It’s something that I love to do. Even if I didn’t make any money doing this, I’d love to do this.”