Hugs were back in fashion last weekend at DelFest LIte at B Chord Brewing Company as the CDC lifted its mandatory mask advisory for vaccinated folks, especially outdoors.
It wasn’t quite back to pre-covid “normal.” Greetings among old friends not seen since 2019 usually included folks’ vaccination status. Folks stopped and asked before hugging. But make no mistake, hugging was back.
Which does not mean people didn’t still greet by bumping elbows. After all, the “DelBow” has been the traditional greeting of DelFest since well before anybody ever heard of a coronavirus anywhere outside of med school or advanced biology classes. Who among DelFestarians did not get a little smug sense of insider pride when early in the pandemic it became such a mainstream greeting.
These DelBows were a little different than those pre-pandemic DelBows. These had a little more symbolic meaning. DelBows; Bill Rudd — the Mayor of DelFEst — decked out with his DelBow pads, “Del” emblazoned on one arm, “Yeah” on the other; Delvis, resplendent with his perfectly coiffed headpiece; Bluegrass Chicken Man, who crossed many roads to get to Loudon County, Va.; Del McCoury picking and awe shucks grinning; a steady procession of fine bands tearing it up on stage — it all meant more than just a bluegrass show.
This was not a concert. This was a revival. There was even festival weather, though the rain didn’t seem to dampen anyone’s spirits. This was DelFest again, after way-too-long an absence. This was a reunion, a crowd that was predominantly folks who had attended previous DelFests. It was a crowd of people like Jon Kehoe — the guy inside the infamous Bluegrass Chickenman costume, who drove 16 hours nonstop, by himself to be there.
Why? Because ultimately he just could not stay away. He came in a quest for that spirit he found years ago at his first DelFest. And he came to see the many friends he has made at DelFest and at the DelFest Academy over the years.
There was no camping at B Chord. That was one of the reasons it was called the “Lite” version of DelFest. But Kehoe had no problem finding a nearby couch with friends he picks with every year at the Academy.
That same spirit of DelFest — the one that leads some folks to leave their wristbands on for months as a reminder of what the festival means to them — was the big reason Kehoe also took a little detour on his way back to Milwaukee to take in the Del McCoury show in Cumberland, Md. on Monday.
The Cumberland show — free to all — was another example of that special spirit that flows from DelFest. According to Chris Harris, of the band’s management, it was Ronnie McCoury who said if the band was going to be just 80 miles away it should do something for DelFest’s host city, too. The covid-delayed more filling, even great tasting full version of the annual event will be held at the Allegany County Fairgrounds in September.
The DelFest Lite event ran Friday through Sunday, wrapping up with a Traveling McCoury’s two-set show that featured a Del sit in during the first set, complete with a special toast to Del with raised cans of the DelFest Lite Kolsch beer B Chord brewed for the occasion. The second set, which was mostly Grateful Dead tunes they feature in their Grateful Ball shows, was smoking hot, with the same vibe you get at a Sunday late-night send off show at DelFest.
That “lite” lineup featured headlining sets by Del McCoury on Friday and The Travelin’ McCourys on Sunday, with Seldom Scene topping a McCoury-less Saturday lineup. It featured familiar DelFest acts such as Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen, The Gibson Brothers, and Dre Anders. Other acts on the bill who had played past DelFests included The Plate Scrapers, and Serene Green, and Fireside Collective makes its big DelFest debut in September.
Hopefully some of the other acts that were on the Lite lineup will be added to the September event. Alt-country singer Sierra Ferrell was exactly the type of non-bluegrass act that fits well at DelFest. The Price Sisters angelic harmonies and great pickin’ would be a nice fit, too. (Note — We did not get to see Saturday’s acts — Furnace Mountain and Level Best because we were at the Del McCoury show in Selinsgrove, Pa.)
Special kudos to the folks at B Chord who continue to knock it out of the park. In addition to brewing up that special DelFest Lite beer (and finally having Juicy Garcia back on tap!), Marty Dougherty and his crew also produced a livestream of the entire event for DelFestarians who could not make it to Round Hill