Del McCoury returns to York for a benefit show.
Del McCoury returns to York for a benefit show. (SUBMITTED)
Originally published Oct. 10, 2012

Del McCoury's father was born in 1904.

In those days, many people, especially those who worked on farms, didn't get much schooling. But when it was time for McCoury, who grew up in York County, to attend high school, he said his mother and father were adamant he earn a diploma.

At the time he was less than thrilled, but he later learned to value education - something that's still a luxury in many parts of the world.

"Kids need to get an education," he said. "The thing is - people in Africa can't afford school."

So Saturday, the bluegrass musician is returning to York's Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center to play a benefit event for the Kittelson Charitable Foundation, which helps children in Rwanda.

It will give McCoury the chance to pass on his parents' message while playing for a hometown crowd.

He said he used to get back to York at least once a year, but Saturday will be his first time on the Strand stage since the April 2010 Governor's Awards for the Arts

ceremony.

That's because McCoury, who is in his 70s, keeps pace with folks half his age. On Sept. 23, he and his band performed the national anthem at the Tennessee Titans game.

After that came preparations for the 2012 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards.

McCoury squeezed in a phone interview before the Sept. 27 ceremony, which he hosted with Laurie Lewis.

He put together a new group he'd yet to name. It was the first time the ensemble, which included his brother Jerry McCoury, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Bobby

Osborne, hit the stage.

McCoury said the short performance wouldn't give him the chance to settle in like the usual 90-minute set. Even with five decades of music experience and various accolades under his belt, McCoury said he's not immune to the jitters.

He's much more comfortable taking song requests from the Grand Ole Opry stage.

At last year's bluegrass awards, McCoury was inducted into the International Bluegrass Music Hall of Fame.

The fact that he winged his speech meant that McCoury had little recollection of the moment. But he recently stumbled upon a radio rebroadcast.

He got to hear his sons Ronnie and Rob share memories. As teens, McCoury's boys begged to be in the band and filled in on instruments as needed.

Now, they have their

own outfit, The Travelin' McCourys, which released an album with Keller Williams this summer.

McCoury is impressed by how younger generations have upheld the bluegrass tradition.

He was surprised when Trey Anastasio of the jam band Phish invited the bluegrass band to play with him on a festival date.

"These boys researched this music," McCoury said. "They know what's happening. Kids coming up in music today ... know where this is all coming from."

And bluegrass - down to its name, in fact - can be traced to Bill Monroe.

He was born in 1911 and became one of the first vocalists to become an Opry member in 1939 - the year McCoury was born.

In 1963, Monroe noticed a young McCoury and offered him a spot in his band.

McCoury said he worked for a year before he quit to get married. But he and Monroe remained friends until his death in 1996.

"We all look up to him because he invented the style," McCoury said. "When I first started playing music it didn't have a name."

Bluegrass, he suspects, came from the name of Monroe's Kentucky band - the Blue Grass Boys.

"It needed a title," he said. "It was born in the middle '40s on the Grand Ole Opry stage. All of (those musicians) could have been classical players, but they were country boys."

McCoury's hall of fame induction came just weeks after what would have been Monroe's 100th birthday. Around that time, McCoury and his band released an album to honor the bluegrass pioneer.

"There were songs on the album that I never heard him do," McCoury said. "Some of the songs, you never did on stage or you drift away from them. I recorded these songs (since I thought) 'I better do this while I can still sing in the same key he did.'"

On Sunday, McCoury will celebrate the centennial of another musical legend - Woody Guthrie. The Kennedy Center tribute for Guthrie is sold out.

Guthrie, born in 1912, was Monroe's peer, but played to the folk genre. McCoury said Guthrie's daughter asked him to write music for some of her father's poems, which he left behind after his 1967 death.

"He wrote so many songs, I just couldn't believe it," McCoury said with a laugh.

And in the whirlwind of the past few weeks, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band also released an album that features Del McCoury Band tunes. In 2008, the bands collaborated on a benefit for the hall's youth outreach.

The supergroup decided to record more songs.

"We put out a new vinyl," McCoury said, tickled that it's back in style again. "That's the first vinyl I've done since the '70s."

Tired yet? McCoury isn't. He has dates with his band and solo shows with Sam Bush.

Before the end of the year, he hopes to put out another record and maybe play some tour dates with the group assembled for the IBMA awards.

Other details of his ever-increasing schedule escaped him. But he never leaves out important details - like when people he admired entered the world.


If you go

See The Del McCoury Band 8 p.m. Saturday at the Strand-Capitol Performing Arts Center, 50 N. George St., York. Tickets cost $30, $45 and $55. For details and tickets, call 717-846-1111 or visit mystrandcapitol.org. This is a rental presentation, so Strand box office policies might not apply.


The Seven Mountains Bluegrass Association celebrates 30 years

The Seven Mountains Bluegrass Association was created in 1982 as a nonprofit to preserve, promote and celebrate bluegrass music. The organization's 2012-13 music series kicks off Saturday with a concert from the Bluegrass Brothers. Doors open at

5:30 p.m. at the Goodwill Fire Co., 2138 S. Queen St., York Township. The show starts at

7 p.m. Cost is $15 for association members, $18 for nonmembers and free for those 12 years old and younger. For details and a list of upcoming shows, call 717-395-7128 or 717-350-4791 or visit sevenmountainsbluegrass.org.

Online

Del McCoury: www.delmccouryband.com

Kittelson Charitable Foundation: www.kittelsoncom/charitablefoundation/index.html

Read a previous interview with Del McCoury, an interview with The Travelin' McCourys, an interview during McCoury's bluegrass festival at Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, in May, and more celebrity interviews at www.yorkblog.com/flipside/celebrity-interviews.