The McCoury brothers- Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) – were born into the bluegrass tradition. Talk about a source abundant and pure: their father, friend of the proGram, Del McCoury, is among the most influential and successful musicians in the history of the genre. Years on the road in the Del McCoury Band honed their knife-edge chops, and encouraged the duo to imagine how traditional bluegrass could cut innovative pathways into 21st century music. With fiddler Jason Carter, bassist Alan Bartram, and latest recruit Cody Kilby on guitar, they assembled a group that could take what they had in their DNA, take what traditions they learned and heard, and push the music forward. In fact, the band became the only group to have each of its members recognized with an International Bluegrass Music Association Award for their instrument at least once. There were peers, too, that could see bluegrass as both historic and progressive. Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductees The Allman Brothers Band, improv-rock kings Phish, and jamband contemporary Keller Williams were just a few that formed a mutual admiration society with the ensemble. Their concerts became can’t-miss events, whether headlining historic venues or as festival favorites, drawing the love and respect of a growing fanbase craving their eclectic repertoire. At the 2016 edition of DelFest, an annual gathering of the genre’s best aptly named for the McCoury patriarch, the band delivered the take-away highlight. So arrives the long-awaited, self-titled debut album from the quintet. A brilliantly executed set overflowing with inventive style, stellar musicianship, and, of course, plenty of burnin’ grass, the 14-song collection is a true culmination of their decades-long journey. From the headwaters of Bill Monroe and the waves of Jerry Garcia to a sound both rooted and revolutionary, soulful and transcending that belongs only to the Travelin’ McCourys.
I had the pleasure of catching up with Rob McCoury ahead of the Travlin’ McCoury‘s show on the 25th of January at the Barrymore Theater in Madison with the Jeff Austin Band. Together, they are calling this event, Grateful Ball. We spend a little time getting into what attendees can expect from that show. We talk about the creation process of the new album, shall I say the new Grammy nominated album….yes, I shall. We talk about how the Grateful Dead became a part of the lives of the McCoury brother’s lives including how the met and hung with Jerry Garcia after their father introduced them. The big take away for me was how the music of it all, the scenes they have been exposed to, the then and the now of Bluegrass music and the future path that they are at many times, in the front of the line leading the way. Rob lets us know if he was ever surprised by another band members song call out in the moment and what song he wouldn’t mind being stuck in a room with and why.