Although Del McCoury’s 80th birthday took place in February, an all-star collection of musicians gathered on Saturday night at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY to celebrate the bluegrass legend’s landmark year, including David Grisman, Jerry Douglas, Vince Herman, Drew Emmitt and Andy Falco.
The show began with a standard Del McCoury Band lineup, as the white-haired legend led his group on “Travelin’ Teardrop Blues,” and joked with the crowd about his lengthy, celebratory tour.
“These birthdays are hard!” Del said with a grin.
Later a crowd request found the McCourys performing “High On The Mountain,” and after a particularly spirited “All Aboard,” Jerry Douglas was the band’s first guest of the evening.
As part of the band’s warm welcome mandolinist Ronnie McCoury dubbed Douglas “the absolute greatest at the instrument he plays,” whereas Del said, “He’s the master, man… If you hear a record coming out of Nashville he’s on it!”
Douglass joined the band for a set-closing batch of tunes he produced for them, including “Nashville Cats” off 2001’s The Family and “Smoking Gun” off 1996’s The Cold Hard Facts.
By 10 p.m., the highly-anticipated Del & Dawg collaboration opened the second set with McCoury and Grisman taking the stage alone.
“It’s really a thrill for me to be here with my old buddy Del McCoury,” Grisman told the audience.
The duo performed the bluegrass classic “Have A Feast Here Tonight,” before McCoury complemented his old friend, saying, “He is the father of dawg music, how about a hand for David Grisman?”
The duo remembered their friend Mac Wiseman with a performance of “Shackles and Chains” before Grisman razzed Del by saying the first set of Del McCoury Band was merely a warm-up.
“That opening act? They were okay,” he said, tongue firmly planted in cheek.
Rowdy fans continued to shout requests and the pair, which Grisman subdued by quipping, “All good things come to those who wait.”
Del and Dawg then dipped into America’s classic folk repertoire with “East Virginia Blues,” and continued on with their “G Run Blues” to showcase McCoury’s rhythm guitar skills as well as “Toy Heart” and “Man of Constant Sorrow.”
And while a version of The Monroe Brothers’ “My Long Journey Home” began as a duet, mid-song the rest of the Del McCoury Band joined Del and Dawg, adding musical depth without missing a beat.
Nodding to the song’s lyric of “Lost all my money but a two dollar bill,” a fan placed a two-dollar bill at the foot of The Capitol Theatre stage, which the band marveled at once the song was complete.
A version of “We Can’t Be Darlings Anymore” also saw Jerry Douglass join in halfway through.
Douglas stuck around for the rest of the night, including on the following “Im Thinking Tonight of My Blue Eyes,” which Grisman dedicated to his wife Tracy who couldn’t be at the show because their family just welcomed “grandbaby number eight.”
The collective of musicians kept growing as Ronnie McCoury introduced Andy Falco of the Infamous Stringdusters to jump onstage.
“I cant tell you what an honor it is to be standing onstage with these gentlemen,” Falco said, adding that their ensuing performance “True Life Blues” marked his first time singing alongside Del McCoury.
Afterwards, Ronnie introduced yet another pair of guests, recalling how the band first met Vince Herman and Drew Emmitt in the early 2000s when they shared a bill on the “Under The Influence Tour.”
Herman and Del shared vocals on “I’m Going Back to Old Kentucky” before Herman later circled back for a silly version of “Act Naturally.”
The Capitol Theatre’s promoter/owner Peter Shapiro then emerged from the wings to surprise Del with a birthday cake; the crowd sung “Happy Birthday” to follow suit.
Shapiro then put the cake at the foot of the stage, to which Del responded, “Who wants to put their face in that first?”
From there, the 11-piece collective jumped into “Midnight Blues” – a track Del McCoury Band and Leftover Salmon captured on the latter’s Nashville Sessions LP.
Grisman then took centerstage for a cheeky “I’m My Own Grandpa” with the nice post-script of “…Dawg that is” to end the tune, before Del took the lead and showed off his still-strong vocal chops on “Dark Hollow” and “Rain and Snow.”
Del continued his hot streak, adding, “We’re gonna do a little tune about a motorcycle,” before launching into “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.”
Grisman took the mic before “Farm and Fun Times,” joking, “Del and I usually do it as a duet but we got this orchestra here,” and “Christmas time’s a-Comin’” brought the holiday spirit (with Grisman being sure to toss in a “Happy Hanukkah” at the end).
The collective encored with “To Make Love Sweeter For You” and “Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms.”
Check out additional photos via The Capitol Theatre below: