Grammy Winners Travelin' McCourys Headline Bluegrass Tribute To The Dead

March 9th, 2019

Waterloo Arts District's Beachland Ballroom and Tavern hosted a rarity for these parts: A genre-bending mashup of two seemingly at-odds types of music:  bluegrass and rock.

Now, defying genre and stereotype has been all the rage lately in both music and film, and it would seen that the Grateful Dead would be the perfect outfit to be interpreted by a famous bluegrass/jam band, so...why not?

The Travelin' McCourys, a very recent Grammy winner for "Best Bluegrass Album" at the 2019 awards earlier this year, were accompanied by Jeff Austin, a founding (and now former) member of the Yonder Mountain String Band.  Each band came out and performed a full set of their own music and then came together for a bluegrass jam session, deemed "The Gratefull Ball," featuring the songs made popular by the seminal '60s outfit.

Settling in for a long night of pickin' and stories, the show started promptly with Colorado transplant Jeff Austin. His virtuoso style of mandolin playing mesmerized the smallish crowd gathered here on a chilly March evening.

Playing for nearly an hour, Austin had the hemp-clothed fans dancing on the ballroom's hardwoods; a good part of the attendees were Deadheads and were clearly enjoying he atmosphere.

After a very short stage reset, The Travelin' McCourys came out to pick up where Austin left off.  Frontman Ronnie McCoury, very early in the set, acknowledged their recent Grammy win.  The crowd burst into applause as a smile crept across the mandolin player's face.

Taking the crowd through a whirlwind (but, of course, satisfying) set, the band had managed to squeeze on the Beachland's stage. As the main event of the night was ready to begin, Austin and Co. somehow managed to fit onto the stage. 

You know, it's amazing how, when musicians play at the top of the game, a veritable magic can occur.  When you have two different bands, headliners in their own right, come together and tackle some fairly well-known material, it can go one of two ways.  A concert can end with groan-inducing winces when it just doesn't come together, or a collective smile can be found on inhabiting the faces of each and every person gathered to witness something that doesn't happen too often.

Thankfully, Wednesday night's gig was the latter of the two.  Each member of the collective band seemed to feed off of one another.  The harmonies, interpreted by mandolin and fiddle, really felt as if these guys have been playing together for decades (and I guess some of them have, but you get my point) because the resulting magic was like catching lightning in a bottle.  

And, for whatever reason, you don't want to let it go.


Photos and Review by John Faddis

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