DelFest 2015: A Hillbilly Jazz Fest, A Del Of A Surprise


The Mardi Gras Pirate

The Mardi Gras Pirate

I never intended to fall silent for so long. After sharing my second ride with Morpheus and my adventures the following weekend, I didn’t even document Fat Tuesday itself when I once again dressed in my purple, gold, & green pirate outfit and caught Zulu for the first time since my first Mardi Gras in 2000. (The costume worked: I scored 5 Zulu coconuts!) As I ground to this unexpected halt, I simply felt like Forrest Gump: That’s all I gotta say about that.

Scoring A Zulu Coconut

Scoring A Zulu Coconut

Despite my blogging break, I have begun writing again, returning to a pre-teen mystery set in New Orleans that I began in the months before moving back. I’d contracted a major case of writer’s block upon moving back to Florida, but recently a few kind strangers who stumbled upon the blog and downloaded Jeremiah’s Scrapbook reached out and inspired me to keep plugging along. As I returned to my novel, I happily discovered that the plot that eluded began congealing in my subconscious during my hiatus; thus I’ve been stealing moments here and there (after declaring myself unable to write in such bursts) between working full-time again and attending every music festival in the southeast. Despite my return to fiction, however, I wondered if I’d ever return to the blog. I felt I had nothing left to say.

And then I found inspiration in the most unexpected place. It took a bluegrass, folk, and string festival in the mountains of western Maryland hosted by bluegrass legend Del McCoury to make me wax nostalgic for my first visit to New Orleans. What the Del?!?


Del McCoury & Son

Del McCoury & Son

My love affair with New Orleans began in 1998. I was living in Tallahassee when my then girlfriend, in grad school at Florida State, suggested we attend Jazz Fest. I’d never been to New Orleans but I love music and visiting new places, so of course I agreed. Still, I thought it was silly that she had friends who attended every year. What a waste of vacation!

Like many, I arrived not fully understand the diversity of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. I loved jazz, but was surprised to discover 11 stages spread across the New Orleans Fairgrounds pulsating with classic and alternative rock, folk, jazz, blues, gospel, Cajun, zydeco, funk, and styles I didn’t even know how to categorize. Although there were countless famous national acts, I gravitated to New Orleans jazz, brass, funk, and Cajun rock, lapping it up like a greedy toddler. How had no one ever told me about this joyous, vibrant and soulful music?!? If I weren’t so elated I would have felt robbed. Where have you been all my life?!?

Me & Jerry That Chilly First Thursday

Me & Jerry That Chilly First Thursday

I left town with a fistful of CDs from the now-defunct Virgin Megastore by Jackson Square, returning in 1999 to discover bands that remain amongst my all-time favorites: Better Than Ezra, Rebirth Brass Band, Galactic, Kermit Ruffins, and Dirty Dozen Brass Band.

I’ve since attended countless times and become somewhat of a festival junkie. Yet, these days I attend more for acts I know and, often, have already seen. To an extent (R.I.P. B.B.) The Thrill Is Gone. It’s not that I think any less of Jazz Fest. I’m just so well steeped in music that I stumble on few surprised. Even when I’ve tried to connect with the next generation of local bands such as Royal Teeth and Sweet Crude or national acts like My Morning Jacket or Arcade Fire I’ve been left cold. I was starting to feel a bit old.

And then a 76-year-old bluegrass picker sporting a dated snow-white pompadour with a voice as ancient high lonesome as the Appalachians that birthed these hillbilly blues helped me reconnect with such youthful wonder.


Old Crow Medicine Show

Old Crow Medicine Show

I stumbled on DelFest quite by accident. In 1999 I’d dragged my oldest brother to Jazz Fest over his protests that, “Horns make me nervous.” Jerry’s an engineer who calls me the ‘artsy fartsy’ one of the family, and though I had emulated his musical tastes growing up, I’ve since been the one exposing him to new sounds. Yet he was on board this current string and bluegrass revival from the start and turned me on to Old Crow Medicine Show several years ago, though my interest was slow to build.

Although I’d still listen to old country or bluegrass from time to time out of nostalgia, I long ago quit viewing the music of my birth home as a major part of my personality. Gradually, though, as rock and modern country continued to stagnate I began to appreciate the synergy of this roots and string movement that Jerry had been nudging me towards. Then I got caught in a perfect storm that blew me back to my roots.

Tents Near The Stage

Tents Near The Stage

It started just before Christmas when my country music loving father was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. As I stewed in apprehension awaiting further news I found myself listening to the old country music that he’d played when I was a child, slowly realizing how deeply it was woven into my DNA. About that time Aimee surprised me by buying Don Williams’s tickets. I thought she was kidding at first, but she was giddy with excitement, explaining he was the first concert she’d ever attended. In January, as my father’s procedure approached, this smooth country crooner’s satin voice and easy demeanor proved to be the sonic cup of tea and a blanket my tattered soul needed. All the while I was really digging Old Crow Medicine Show, who around this time announced they were coming to St. Augustine. Suddenly I found myself basking in the Appalachian hillbilly music of my West Virginia home.


RV Camping Nearby In WV

RV Camping Nearby In WV

When I checked OCMS’s website I noticed that a week after St. Augustine they were playing a music festival in western Maryland. Jerry lives in the eastern MD, so I decided to look into this Memorial Day Weekend event. Although I hate to admit it, I knew little about the host, bluegrass legend Del McCoury, beyond his name, and Old Crow was the only band I really knew, but the pictures from past years looked fun, with its stages nestled snuggly between two mountains.

So I sent Jerry a link, doubting he’d give it a second look. I couldn’t recall the last time we’d attended a concert together and it’s been over a decade since his last Jazz Fest, so when he immediately responded: “Okay. Sounds good,” I called to see if he was joking. (And asked again about 5 times over the next three months just to make sure!) It turns out his stepdaughter lives twenty minutes from the Cumberland Fairgrounds where DelFest is held, and he and his wife camp in the area several times a year to visit the grandkids. So to my surprise plans moved forward and last week I few to D.C, arriving–just like my first Jazz Fest–having little idea what was in store.


2015-05-24 19.27.57Although we encountered a ticketing snafu the opening Thursday afternoon (they turned us around after waiting in traffic and sent us to a college 20 minutes away for wrist bands—something that would have been nice to have been included in on the website or emails) our troubles immediately melted upon walking onto the grounds. Del McCoury was opening the festivities with his band, and we were immediately struck by his infectious laugh and easy-going demeanor. This narrow hollow between two looming green ridges was his living room and everyone felt welcome. And everyone was instant family.

Unlike Jazz Fest or any other music festival I’ve attended, DelFest was a small, intimate affair with three stages that never got too crowded. Whereas at Wanee Fest you are forced to camp far from the stages and trek back and forth, here you camp right on the fairgrounds. Although the main stage was cordoned off, people camped right by the Potomac Stage, and you could hear the main stage from the Del-uxe camping area.

2015-05-22 11.37.34Each of the four days, Del took the stage and each day we came to love him more. Every musician he’d invited gushed about how honored they were and how welcoming Del had been. Many admitted they’d been coming long before being asked to play. The audience ranged from little kids to twenty-something hipsters to middle-aged fogies like us to vibrant and youthful retirees of Del’s generation.

Friday morning as we walked around checking out the various camping areas, already planning for next year, we talked to a guy pushing thirty who gushed about what a great event this was. “My friends and I go to a lot of festivals, but this is the only one where we buy tickets before the lineup is even released.” He grinned. “But we know Del will be here. And we know there’ll be banjos.” He shook his head as if there were nothing more to say.


2015-05-22 18.17.53 HDRDel McCoury may be an old school bluegrass picker and crooner, but he has rock star gravitas. Twenty-something hippies were walking around wearing pins that said: “I Dig Del” and the crowd was thick with ‘Del Yeah!’ t-shirts. In fact, this latter exclamation was the unofficial slogan of the festival. Between songs bands would implore the audience: “Can I get a ‘Del Yeah’!” and passers-by would grin and offer a high-five while crying the refrain. Normally such a cultivated cult of personality, with Del’s name punned in every way imaginable, may seem self-aggrandizing or creepy, but Del came across as everyone’s grandfather unifying with love and music.

Like that first Jazz Fest, I spent the weekend wandering around in awe soaking up new sounds. Although not as diverse, the lineup was much more varied than expected, mixing bluegrass and old-timey string bands with alt-country, folk, traditional outlaw and honky-tonk country, jam bands, and even a young soul quartet from Boston.

Del McCoury Band Kicked Off DelFest

Del McCoury Band Kicked Off DelFest

And at the center of it all was Del, returning every day, usually with his band that features his two sons and with grandchildren sitting in, picking his acoustic guitar and charming the audience with his infectious laugh and sly humor—joking, telling stories and just hanging out.

I can think of nothing that sounds more square and unrelatable than an aging bluegrass singer with a white pompadour and thick Appalachian twang, and yet Del was as hip as anyone I’ve ever seen take the stage, bringing together musicians and fans of all generations and genres in a delightful four days of love, respect, laughter, and music. Everyone seems to Dig Del!


Next post I’ll discuss some of the bands I discovered, but I felt I needed to explain how a blog about New Orleans music and culture jumped from Mardi Gras to a hoedown in the hills!

Del Yeah!




FOLLOW THE MISSISSIPPI: Memphis Musical Ménage á Trois


2014-07-08 12.16.44The Elvis themed dive just outside of Graceland informed me they were no longer serving breakfast. What kind of diner quits serving breakfast after 10:00!? Considering I’d spent a soggy night curled up in the middle of a leaky tent I’d pitched by headlights after driving a half hour from Memphis and then wandering lost for a half hour in a sprawling state park, I didn’t accept the news with grace. The king would not approve.

2014-07-08 13.21.32After swallowing an unsatisfying hamburger I scurried away, but upon learning they wanted $10 just to park next door I returned to my parking spot and walked–the cheapest admission package to see a dead man’s house ($34) seemed stiff enough. Despite the rocky start, passing the gates of Graceland via shuttle from the visitor center marked the start of what would be one of the most epic musical days of my life. In Hannibal I’d walked in the footsteps of Mark Twain, but today I would [Read more…]

Jazz Fest 2014, Weekend 2: Cut Loose Like A Bruce & Fogerty Reborn On The Bayou


The String Cheese Incident…or Minor Happening

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String Cheese Incident Plays To A Deserted Fairgrounds

After a muted first weekend, the Thursday that opens weekend two of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was perhaps the lamest day of Jazz Fest I’ve ever attended. I was puzzled when The String Cheese Incident was chosen to headline the main stage, especially considering Robert Plant and John Fogerty—leaders of two of the most wildly popular bands in popular music history—were relegated to the secondary ‘Gentilly’ Stage (no free advertising here!) Apparently my sentiment was shared, for String Cheese drew a crowd more appropriate to Fais Do Do stage. I’ve never seen the big stage so deserted that late in the afternoon! Across the fairgrounds Lyle Lovett drew an equal and perhaps bigger crowd at Gentilly. Considering it wasn’t his looks that snagged Julia Roberts I thought the show may have potential. I like intelligent, progressive Country in the vein of Dwight Yoakum but Lyle just wasn’t doing it for me. A solid set by the always dependable Marcia Ball and Galactic drum wizard Stanton Moore‘s jazz trio where he put on a rhythm clinic weren’t enough to save the day so I left early, glad that I’d volunteered that morning on a rare day when Jazz Fest wasn’t worth the cost of the ticket.

String Cheese Was Solid But Didn't Wow

String Cheese Was Solid But Didn’t Wow

Not Loving Lovett

Not Loving Lovett

After four inconsistent days I was a little worried, but I knew I could count on Cowboy Mouth to interject some soul and energy early Friday afternoon before Bruce Springsteen saved all Saturday. Local rockers Cowboy Mouth has often been mentioned on this blog for lifting my spirits just at the right moment, and Bruce never phones it in anyhow, but has had a love affair with New Orleans and Jazz Fest that began with his 2006 post-Katrina show that locals still speak of in reverent tones for how he lifted the entire city on his spiritual shoulders and helped carry it through its darkest hour.


Bruce Springsteen Cuts Loose Like A Deuce & Brings Thunder to the Road

Bruce Brings The Thunder

Bruce Brings The Thunder

For decades I said I didn’t really [Read more…]

New Orleans Jazz Fest 2014, Week 1: From Zoso to So-So


Day 1 of Jazz Fest 2014 Was Brutally Hot

Day 1 of Jazz Fest 2014 Was Brutally Hot

Weekend 1 of Jazz Fest 2014 was a rather muted one. There were many big names but few big performances—at least that clicked with my tastes. While volunteering at the Access Station for guests with disabilities I chatted with rap, hip-hop, and bounce fans that were excited about Public Enemy, Big Freedia, and Charlie Wilson of the Gap Band, but Robert Plant (the singer of Led Zeppelin, mom!) and Eric Clapton were the only names that enticed my rock, blues, jazz, and alternative sensibilities…though I would have loved to have seen Branford Marsalis headline the Jazz Tent if he weren’t scheduled opposite Plant. Fortunately, the former Zeppelin front man more than lived up to expectations if not delivering an all-time Jazz Fest performance. Clapton, however, was good but nowhere close to the legend his reputation ‘Promises.’


Planting New Roots

Robert Plant

Robert Plant

Three years ago I saw Robert Plant with his Band of Joy at Wanee Fest in Live Oak, Florida. This folkish roots outfit spun charmingly soft and nuanced versions of hard-rocking Led Zeppelin classics, and as Plant purred through a mix of stripped down classics and new discoveries I figured [Read more…]

Wanee Festival 2014, Day 2: Warren Haynes & Derek Trucks Double Duty


Camping At Wanne Fest

Camping At Wanne Fest

Except for the handful of weekends it hosts large-scale music festivals, the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park is primarily a campground nestled along the river immortalized by Tin Pan Alley songwriter Stephen Foster (who never actually saw its shores but rather plucked its name from a map for its poetic cadence). Saturday saw the dawn of another beautiful day on this gorgeous expanse of river-fed pine and Cypress forest, so after heating up some coffee on a camp stove, grabbing eggs and bacon at the on-site restaurant (God bless my low carb Lent), and saying farewell to the friend who had joined me for Friday’s shows, I hopped on my bike and rode down to the river which I’d yet to spy during my three previous Wanees in 2009, 2011, and 2012.

Colorful Wanee Sheets & Banners

Colorful Wanee Sheets & Banners

Suwannee Music Park is a bucolic place to ride, and I have friends who return here annually for the cleverly named I-Did-A-Ride trail race. So with map in hand, I tried to make sense out of the maze of tent-jammed roads that had confounded me the previous afternoon as I wound my way to the banks of the Suwannee. When I arrived after a twenty minute ride, this dark, snaking stream proved as picturesque as Foster imagined (good guess,Yankee!), and the thousands of tents, camping vans, shipping crates and other improvised sleeping arranges along its shores were a feast for the eyes, decorated with handmade signs, Wannee banners, and tie-dye sheets that added a festive communal sense to the event. It seemed a lot of work for two or three nights where you’d largely be away from the tent hearing music, and made me suspect some folks come more for the giant campout and only hit the festival ground for a favorite band or two.

Not me! I could have explored these trails checking out quirky campsites for hours, but The Chris Robinson Brotherhood, the first band I wanted to see, started at 1:00 and there wouldn’t be a break in the action until the Allmans left the stage at midnight, so I rushed back to the tent and loaded up to hang out all day under the hot southern sun listening to a joyful noise.


Chris Robison At Wanee

Chris Robison At Wanee

During the 90s the Robinson brothers of the Black Crowes competed with the Gallagher brothers of Oasis for [Read more…]

Wanee Festival 2014, Day 1: The Allman Brothers Band Hometown(ish) Swan Song


2014-04-12 20.27.03Ten years ago The Allman Brothers Band founded Wanee Fest at the Spirit of Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, FL as an opportunity to showcase their band near their Florida and Georgia homes as well as their multiple side projects. The initial year included a modest supporting cast, but in the decade since Wanee has grown into a huge event with impressive supporting star power; however, the future of the band and perhaps the festival is now in question, so I skipped the opportunity to attend only my third French Quarter Festival just minutes from my new New Orleans home to make the seven hour drive back to my old Florida home to pay tribute to a favorite band and an outfit that changed rock-n-roll, particularly in regards to guitar harmony and extended jamming.


2014-04-11 23.05.27The Allman Brothers Band has certainly suffered staggering losses before. Just as they were reaching national notoriety in the early ‘70s they [Read more…]

French Quarter Festival 2014 In Pictures


2014-04-10 18.52.00In 2013 I posted detailed daily reviews of French Quarter Festival, the second largest New Orleans music festival after Jazz Fest (though Voodoo Fest may beg to differ) and one of the largest free music festivals in the nation. This year, however, I am around for only the first of this four-day event. I am loath to leave when so much wonderful free music is filling up the city’s tourist core, but I was granted a reviewer pass to cover Wanee Fest in Florida, The Allman Brothers‘ annual festival and campout on the Suwanee River. The Allman Brothers are one of my top five all-time favorite bands and they announced in January that they were calling it quits after this year; thus, iI can’t pass up the opportunity to say farewell to an old musical friend.

Fortuitous Timing

Fortuitous Timing

As consolation, I made it out to the river front today to enjoy some wonderful music on a sublime afternoon. The crowd was as quirky and engaging as always, so I thought I’d let the pictures do the talking and give you a glimpse of the wonderful time you’re missing if you’re not in New Orleans this weekend!




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Selfie With the Crowd [Read more…]

Fat Tuesday 2014: The Curtain Falls On My Year of Mardi Gras



Later That Night At Blue Nile….

After a joyous and unforgettable climax to a momentous and often tumultuous journey, My Year of Mardi Gras ended with a whimper. Granted, I still live in New Orleans and this ‘year’ lasted nearly thirteen months as my journey began with my arrival in town on February 7th for Mardi Gras 2013 on the 12th while Fat Tuesday fell a month later this year on March 4th; however, in a narrative sense my self-selected year-ish time clock wound down on a cold, rainy, muted Tuesday.

The Purple, Green & Gold Pirate at the French Market

The Purple, Green & Gold Pirate at the French Market

Carnival Season 2014 had seen some of the most dramatic temperature swings in New Orleans history, and the excellent weather of the preceding weekend had turned chilly on Lundi Gras. Then that night a heavy, frigid rain began to fall. The rain had stopped when I awoke Mardi Gras morning, but the ground was damp and the sky heavy with gray clouds threatening the next deluge.

Lovely Lady Pirate Sidekick

Lovely Lady Pirate Sidekick

I only had one guest left in town by now, and we were planning to walk with the KOE, an online organization that used to parade as [Read more…]

Lundi Gras 2014: Putting The M In Orpheus & Cowboy Mouth Gets A Cavity


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Chilling Out (Literally) At Orpheus

I’m tempted to describe the final weeks of My Year of Mardi Gras as a steep bell curve of excitement, but that wouldn’t be accurate. There were multiple peaks on this wild rollercoaster ride, not a steady ascent. One of my primary missions in moving here was to ‘imbed’ in at least one Mardi Gras krewe and I wound up both walking with an alternative krewe and riding with a traditional krewe, allowing me to compare and contrast. As expected, these were by far the highlights of my year here, although the entire  Mardi Gras 2014 season has been a blast.

The Crew At Krewe du Brew

The Crew At Krewe du Brew

Carnival actually began January 6th, and the prep and planning stretched far beyond that, leading to a slow build of anticipation. Then there were three weekends of parading starting with Krewe du Vieux which I was able to share with my Treme addicted brother. Even though my ride with Morpheus that Friday and walk with Chewbacchus the Saturday before were the culmination of my ambition, I still had guests in town so enjoyed all the aspects of Mardi Gras to it’s fullest. However, by the time we met up with Chip and Eloy for brunch at Krewe du Brew Monday afternoon where I was finishing a blog post before heading to the Cowboy Mouth Lundi Gras show at the Riverwalk, it was clear we were about to descend the final peak.

Not helping matters, the beautiful weather of the weekend had given way to a chilly Lundi Gras (Fat Monday) on the one Monday you actually care about the weather. So after warming up on coffee and pressed croissant sandwiches, we all piled into Eloy’s truck and bundled up in blankets as we looked for parking downtown.


The Man, Danny Cattan! Lundi Gras 2013

The Man, Danny Cattan!
Lundi Gras 2013

Despite the weather, the downtown was packed so we wound up having to wind our way to the top of the Canal Place parking garage on the border of the French Quarter and the CBD. This put us right between [Read more…]

Mardi Gras Madness: A Sunday Retreat


Thoth Rolls Down Magazine

Thoth Rolls Down Magazine

If I had been dragging Saturday after my huge day riding in Morpheus, Sunday morning I was absolutely spent. We’d been going non-stop since my guests had arrived on Thursday. Heck, my Mardi Gras had actually begun two weekends prior when my brother visited for Krewe du Vieux followed the next weekend by my crazy walk with Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus. I’d been running on pure adrenalin and college levels of alcohol but it was now catching up with me.

Along with the fatigue of revving in the red too long, my legs were swollen and aching after standing all day on that tiny float (though my crappy diet that weekend hardly helped). Fortunately, we had a relaxed day planned. My friend Maggie McKeown, whose bookstore sadly closed in January, had invited us to watch the Mid-City and Thoth parades. Her neighbors host a block party every year and she wanted to share this view of Mardi Gras deep Uptown off the main thoroughfare of St. Charles. Though I’d seen parades from many vantage points, I’d not been amongst a group of tight-knit neighbors who have gathered for twenty years. Now that’s N’Awlins!


Lazily Watching Thoth

Lazily Watching Thoth

Kyle was still clinging to illusions of [Read more…]