As sad as it might have been to see the Utah Arts Fest come to a close after a glorious weekend, it's hard to imagine a better finish than the Del McCoury Band's set.
The traditional bluegrass group's Sunday-night show on the Festival Stage had a little bit of everything that makes the Del McCoury Band great. There was the stunning musicianship, particularly from Del's boys Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo). There was Del's affable stage presence, taking requests and joking with the crowd between songs. And there was the energy created by the melding of audience and performer, a joyous thing that doesn't happen at every show you see.
From the opening take on "Dry My Tears and Move On," the Del McCoury Band had the audience that had gathered in the palms of their nattily attired hands. Nearly every song gave the players an opportunity to solo on their respective instruments, and hearing the quintet pick furiously through songs from their catalog is always impressive. You get a lot of random shouts of appreciation during Del McCoury Band shows, and the people around me were audibly impressed by what was going on on stage.
"We were at the Grand Ole Opry last night," Del announced early in the set, adding that "we're prouder to be here tonight. But don't tell them folks back in Tennessee I said that."
The silver-haired Del is so friendly, it's striking. But he's no attention hog. He gave each member of his band plenty of shine, starting with Ronnie, "8-time mandolin player of the year," when introducing "Vicksburg Rendezvous."
Robbie McCoury stepped to the mic to lead the band through longtime live favorite "Nashville Cats," and fiddler Jason Carter got a chance to take the spotlight right after for a ripping fiddle tune. Like the McCoury offspring, Carter has won player of the year honors on his instrument a few times, too. Bass-fiddle man Alan Bartram silenced the crowd briefly for a lovely vocal take on "The Kentucky Waltz."
Even with those stellar young players surrounding him, though, Del McCoury never disappeared into the background. He laughed off a couple of instances when he forgot the lyrics to old songs that audience members had requested, and complimented the crowd for picking up the lines when he lost them.
The man never lost the crowd through those slight fumbles, though, and his positive vibe was an ideal way to end the festival's array of entertainment.