DelFest 2022. Holy mackerel.
For a first timer wondering what to expect, it felt like being at home after mere moments. The Allegany County Fairgrounds played host to this festival, which saw its 14th Annual go down.
The wholesome family-like environment was evident, and it was truly a haven for all walks of life. Nothing else in the outside world mattered while in the Del bubble. It was all about enjoying yourself and your company amidst the beautiful scenery and live music. There was so much to see and hear, and it was a most delightful sensory experience on all accounts.
Here are the 15 best things we saw at DelFest this year.
15. The Del McCoury Blowup Doll
When you first make your entrance over the train tracks and into the heart of things, all are greeted by this jovial Del blowup doll. The good times start from the get go at DelFest.
14. The Bloody Mary Bar
Friday and Saturday morning from 10 AM – Noon, McClintock Distilling offered Bloody Mary’s in the Music Hall. They shake the liquids, you help yourself to a buffet of fixins’. Yes please.
13. The Della Mae Dancing Man
I had first seen this very dancing man at Blue Ox Music Festival last August during a Henhouse Prowler afternoon set. He got down to the groove like none other, and it was a most delightful surprise to catch him shaking his spaghetti limbs during Della Mae’s version of “Tulsa Time.” Just a man living his best life.
12. Chicken Man
Finding Chicken Man – aka Jon – was something of a real life Where’s Waldo. Except much easier. It didn’t take long to realize he is legend among the bluegrass festival circuit. I heard kids talking about him, and Vince Herman of Leftover Salmon and Del himself called him out during their sets. “Free range bluegrass bird. A Winged warrior for the good in people and to spread the bluegrass music far and wide..” reads his Instagram bio.
11. DelFest On The River
Hordes of folks hauled in tubes throughout the festival and made their merry way down the lazy river. Some had fishing poles, most had beers, and all had one hell of a time floating through this scenic nook with the echoes of fiddles in the near distance.
10. Jerry Douglas
According to the ever-trusty Wikipedia, Jerry Douglas has played on more than 1,600 albums. He’s been nominated for 32 Grammys, having won 14. Needless to say, he’s doing alright for himself. He and his band blew me and likely everybody else away with their utterly epic rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” It could’ve lasted five minutes, fifteen minutes, or thirty minutes- I don’t know. Time ceased to exist. “That’s one I wrote with my friend George Harrison,” he said after. “I wait by the mailbox everyday.”
9. Béla Fleck‘s My Bluegrass Heart
The lone time I caught Béla Fleck perform was at The Finger Lakes Grassroots Festival of Music and Dance somewhere in the later 2000s. I have a cloudy memory of it for various reasons, but despite the rain clouds involved this time around, this one will be seared into my mind. As the rain came pouring down around 6:30 or so on Friday, the band was in full swing, rifling through many a gem. The crowd goes wild for some high-energy music in a downpour.
8. Sierra Hull
I was thrilled for my first time to catch Sierra Hull and her band, and as expected, they did not disappoint. The mandolin maestro slayed at lightning speed, playing songs off of her latest album 25 Trips and much more. There’s a reason she’s one of the best and brightest in the bluegrass game and beyond.
7. Molly Tuttle
If you aren’t familiar with Molly Tuttle yet, what in God’s name have you been doing? The flat-picking phenom recently dropped her new record, Crooked Tree, and she and her band Golden Highway (along with Jerry Douglas filling in for MIA banjo picker Kyle Tuttle) delivered all the feels Sunday afternoon to the sun-baked crowd. “Nashville Mess Around” was a fun number that got things rolling early on.
6. Leftover Salmon
You know it’s a party when Leftover Salmon hits the stage. Pioneered by Drew Emmitt and Vince Herman, the band’s been grinding it out for 30+ years, bringing their eclectic mix of bluegrass, funk, soul, zydeco, and rock to the masses. Herman played his last show in his 50s Friday night, as the jovial front man would hit 60 at the stroke of midnight. Prior to their encore, the band delivered their epic version of “Black Hole Sun.”
5. Robert Earl Keen
It was my first time seeing the great Robert Earl Keen, and quite truthfully, probably my last. The “The Road Goes On Forever” songsmith is set to hang it up this September, and I’m damn glad I got to catch him. He sat most stoic and badass in his blue suit, dark sunglasses, and hat, cruising through a number of classics with many a good joke in between. He was the star of Thursday night.
4. The Scenery
I mean what can you say? The backdrop of the festival – this half-heart shape of a mountainscape that separates Maryland from West Virginia – never gets old. It makes you feel very small in the grand scheme of things. I went down the existential rabbit hole thinking about the centuries of people who’ve come and gone in this area, and yet that earthly mass still remains, largely unchanged. When we will be long gone, it’ll still remain. And no, psychedelics weren’t involved when pondering. Okay, sorry- on to the next.
3. The Travelin’ McCourys
What would the festival be without the kin of Del himself? Ronnie and Robbie McCoury and their bandmates- The Travelin’ McCourys – laid the lumber throughout the weekend. Saturday night on the Grandstand Stage saw a number of delightful covers including three Grateful Dead tunes (“Cumberland Blues”, “Bird Song,” and “Scarlet Begonias”) along with Paul Simon’s “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover” and Tom T. Hall’s “I Like Beer.” Even if they only played these songs and nothing else I would’ve been thrilled.
2. The California Honeydrops
I’d heard a lot of buzz about The California Honeydrops when I first got the festival, but hadn’t been acquainted with them prior. I wanted to keep it a surprise as to what they sounded like, and holy hell was it a treat. The 7-piece band made you feel like you were in New Orleans what with their big bold soulful sound, horn section and all. It was loaded with funk, jazz, and R&B feels, and they were immensely interactive with the crowd. This was one of the most memorable performances of the weekend.
1. Del McCoury
How could #1 be anything else? As for several others, this was my first time witnessing the incredible Del McCoury. I knew I would enjoy his music, but what I didn’t expect was to laugh almost every time between songs. Del’s speaking voice alone is most unique – a bit higher pitched – but he often laughed when telling stories and anecdotes, and his laugh immediately triggered others to laugh. His grandfatherly presence was most warm, and he’s the kind of person you could listen to for hours- speaking or playing. Favorites included his versions of “Streets of Baltimore” and “Nashville Cats.”
*Note- Due to unfortunate circumstances, we missed Sam Bush and Tyler Childers. Therefore they were exempt from this list.