The latest iteration of the Travelin’ McCourys falls into the unlikely collaboration genre: a barefoot one-man jam band placed in the middle of straight-laced virtuoso bluegrass pickers.
By playing together, experimental guitarist/songwriter Keller Williams and Del McCoury’s band challenge themselves and their fans. Being brilliant just in your own field apparently gets old.
Photos, below, from a 2011 Keller Williams concert in Telluride, Colo.
What resulted Saturday at the Ogden was a dizzying experience that somehow held together – veering from Williams singing about snowboarding naked on his original, “I am Elvis,” to Ronnie McCoury sounding eerily like his dad during “On the Lonesome Wind,” to a Butthole Surfers cover.
These are the kinds of collaborations born on the festival circuit in places like Telluride and Lyons, where artists who otherwise might not cross paths find themselves forging friendships and trying new things.
Of course, bluegrass and noodling go way back. The fourth song of Saturday’s set – a cover of “The Hobo Song” from 1970s jamgrass supergroup Old and in the Way – was an acknowledgement.
And both Williams and the Travelin’ McCourys like to stretch. Williams already has recorded a bluegrass album; the McCourys recently collaborated with Florida-based gospel and funk outfit the Lee Boys.
The Ogden crowd was skewed toward fans of Williams, the mop-haired self-taught guitarist whose inventive looping effects leave revelers twirling in tie-died glee. He looks like a kid who fell out of a tree.
I don’t know Williams’ music well, but I do know that almost any song is improved by a solo from Ronnie McCoury on mandolin or Jason Carter on fiddle. And it was obvious all involved were having a hell of a good time.
The evening’s best surprise came when Williams welcomed Del McCoury onstage. The 72-year-old with the high lonesome tenor fulfilled audience requests (“Henry Walker”) in his aw-shucks way and was joined by Williams for the bluegrass traditional “Rollin’ in my Sweet Baby’s Arms.”
The only blemish was a sound mix that had McCoury’s vocal turned up too high.
McCoury introduced one of his own songs, “Beauty of My Dreams,” by saying he was “tickled to death” that it had been covered by “a band called Phish.” Some audience members had heard of that band.
To say the guest appearance was a treat is kind of like saying Del McCoury has a distinctive voice.
For those who missed Keller and the Boys on this go-around, they’ll be back in Colorado this summer for RockyGrass in Lyons, where who knows what kind of new collaborations will take form.
Eric Gorski is a staff writer at The Denver Post and occasional contributor to Reverb.