Making their first-ever Sugar Maple appearance, Saturday’s headliners The Travelin’ McCourys bring an unmatched pedigree and an effervescent, adventurous spirit to the festival stage. Ronnie (mandolin) and Rob (banjo) spent 20 years on the road with their father, the bluegrass legend Del McCoury. Together with Jason Carter (fiddle), Alan Bartram (bass), and Cody Kilby (guitar), they are artfully bending their mastery of traditional bluegrass stylings toward exciting new combinations of old and young, traditional and inventive.
The Travelin’ McCourys have collaborated with the Allman Brothers Band, Phish, Dierks Bentley and Keller Williams, among others, yet they always manage to maintain the tight, sometimes joyful, sometimes high and lonesome vernacular that is the essence of bluegrass. It helps that each of the five band members have been recognized by the International Bluegrass Music Association as the best at their instrument, with bassist Alan Bartram winning the award most recently in 2018.
For a taste of the Travelin’ McCourys’ unique approach to a bluegrass standard, listen to their blistering version of “John Henry” from DelFest 2016…
…or how they can slow it down and adapt nontraditional material with their soulful take on the Grateful Dead’s “Loser”:
Expect the best of traditional bluegrass, and a healthy dose of the unexpected, with the Travelin’ McCourys at this year’s Sugar Maple Festival.
–written by Brad Wolbert