The Breckenridge Music Festival’s Blue River Series welcomes Del & Dawg featuring bluegrass royalty Del McCoury and David (Dawg) Grisman.
Del & Dawg celebrates the nearly 50-year bluegrass friendship that these two legendary musicians have shared. Del McCoury met David Grisman at the first show Del ever played (on banjo) with Bill Monroe in the spring of 1963 at New York University in Greenwich Village. Three years later, Del & Dawg played their first gig together in Troy, NY at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Through the years they have shared the stage at venues and festivals across the country and in 2012 released Hardcore Bluegrass, a unique collection of bluegrass classics, made at two Dawg studio jam sessions in the 1990s.
For nearly half a century, mandolinist / composer / bandleader / producer David Grisman has been a guiding force in the evolving world of acoustic music. His musical range is wide and deep, embracing many styles, genres and traditions. An acoustic pioneer and innovator, David forged a unique personal artistic path, skillfully combining elements of the great American music/art forms of jazz and bluegrass with many international flavors and sensibilities to create his own distinctive idiom of “Dawg” music (the nickname given him by Jerry Garcia.) In doing so, he has inspired new generations of acoustic string musicians, while creating his own niche in contemporary music.
In 1963 Grisman made his first recordings both as an artist (Even Dozen Jug Band – Elektra) and producer (Red Allen, Frank Wakefield and the Kentuckians ‚ Folkways.) In 1966 Red Allen offered David his first job with an authentic bluegrass band, the Kentuckians. Grisman began composing original tunes and playing with other urban bluegrass contemporaries like Peter Rowan and Jerry Garcia, with whom he would later form Old & in the Way.
David’s interests spread to jazz in 1967, while playing in a folk-rock group, Earth Opera. A failed attempt at learning to play alto sax turned him into a student of jazz musicianship and theory. His burgeoning career as a session musician gave him experience playing many types of music and opportunities to stretch the boundaries of the mandolin. His discography is filled with notables including Jerry Garcia, Stephane Grappelli, the Grateful Dead, John Hartford, Del McCoury, Bonnie Raitt, Linda Ronstadt, Earl Scruggs, James Taylor and Doc Watson.
Dawg’s instrumental style found a home in 1974 when he formed the Great American Music Band with fiddler Richard Greene. Within a year, David met guitar wizard Tony Rice, who moved to California where they started rehearsing a new group, the David Grisman Quintet (DGQ,) which also included violinist Darol Anger and bassist/mandolinist Todd Phillips. The current lineup includes bassist Jim Kerwin, flutist Matt Eakle, percussionist George Marsh, guitarist George Cole and fiddler Chad Manning (DGQ+).
After recording for major and independent labels, David founded Acoustic Disc in 1990 and entered the most prolific period of his career, producing 67 critically acclaimed CDs (five of which were Grammy-nominated.) Recently Grisman has revisited his roots with the David Grisman Bluegrass Experience (DGBX). This very traditional group includes Keith Little on 5-string banjo, guitar and vocals, Jim Nunally on guitar and vocals, Chad Manning on fiddle, Samson Grisman on bass, with David on mandolin and vocals.
David Grisman has always been a revolutionary. He has deeply influenced contemporary acoustic practitioners through his own musical explorations and with the continuing success of Acoustic Disc and Acoustic Oasis, has helped make artist-owned independent labels a viable force in today’s music business.
For more than fifty years, Del McCoury’s music has defined authenticity for hard core bluegrass fans as well as a growing number of fans among those only vaguely familiar with the genre. McCoury is something special, a living link to the days when bluegrass was made only in hillbilly honkytonks, schoolhouse shows and on the stage of the Grand Ole Opry, yet also a commandingly vital presence today, from prime time and late night talk show TV to music festivals where audiences number in the hundreds of thousands.
Born in York County, PA seventy five years ago, Del McCoury would once have seemed an unlikely candidate for legendary status. Bitten hard by the bluegrass bug when he heard Earl Scruggs’ banjo in the early ’50s, McCoury became a banjo picker himself, working in the rough but lively Baltimore and D.C. bar scene into the early 1960s. He got his first taste of the limelight when he joined Bill Monroe’s Blue Grass Boys in early 1963; the Father of Bluegrass moved McCoury from the banjo to guitar, made him his lead singer, and gave him a lifetime’s worth of bluegrass tutelage direct from the source.
Flash-forward to 1990s and the Del McCoury Band is on top of the bluegrass world, along the way giving birth to a more startling phenomenon: the emergence of the group onto the larger musical scene as a unique torchbearer for the entire sweep of bluegrass and its history. It turned out that the unmistakable authenticity of McCoury’s music, along with his good-natured willingness to keep alert for new sounds and new opportunities-had bred fans in some unlikely places. That bluegrass-bred stars like Gill and Alison Krauss (who first met Del at a bluegrass festival when she filled in for a missing fiddler of his) would sing his praises wasn’t surprising, but who would have expected country-rock icons like Steve Earle or jam bands like the supremely popular Phish to have joined in the chorus? By the second half of the ’90s, the acclaim and Del’s open-mindedness put McCourys in onstage jams with Phish and on the road and in the studio with Earle, bringing the Del McCoury Band’s fierce musicianship and its leader’s instantaneous, easygoing connection with listeners to new arenas. The group appeared on prime time television and began an ongoing series of visits to popular late night TV talk shows, toured rock clubs and college campuses, and found itself welcome at country and even jazz-oriented music festivals and venues.
Yet while reaching out to almost unimaginable audiences, Del’s music retains its signature characteristics. The fifth decade of that half-century of music making has been filled with new and ongoing triumphs. The Del McCoury Band has shown unprecedented stability, with but a single change in membership in twenty years; nine IBMA Entertainer of the Year trophies, their namesake earned membership in the cast of the legendary Grand Ole Opry in 2003, and the Band earned their first Best Bluegrass Album Grammy award two years later followed by their second Grammy win in 2014 (to go along with double digit nominations); they traveled with the groundbreaking post-O Brother “Down From The Mountain” tour, performed and recorded (on his Grammy-winning These Days) with Gill and with country star Dierks Bentley. They are a regular at the spectacular Bonnaroo Music Festival, and Del’s namesake Festival, DelFest has quickly become one of the premier string band events in the country, showcasing acts ranging from bluegrass legend Bobby Osborne to Phish’s frontman Trey Anastasio.
Del might be 76, but he’s singing better than ever and showing no signs of slowing down.