Music News & Reviews

Del McCoury, a headliner at Terrapin Hill fest, is having big year

Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival

Sept. 25-27 at Terrapin Hill Farm, 3696 Mackville Rd., Harrodsburg. $45, $85 adults; $20, $35 ages 8-15. (859) 734-7207. www.terrapinhillfarm.com/festival.

The first official weekend of fall is here along with the return of the Terrapin Hill Harvest Festival, the annual outdoor celebration of groove and grass music in Harrodsburg.

As usual, the festival schedule mixes in several noted national acts (Greensky Bluegrass from Kalamazoo, Mich., and Cornmeal from Chicago) with a predominantly local and regional lineup of bands (Born Cross Eyed, Green Genes, The Other Brothers and more) on three stages.

Friday's headliner will be the great Del McCoury Band. As stated in the title of a new five-disc anthology, Celebrating 50 Years, McCoury's career as one of bluegrass music's most progressively minded traditionalists has now passed the half-century mark. Although he clocked time with Bill Monroe in 1963, McCoury's current popularity centers on the band he has led for the past two decades with his sons, mandolinist Ronnie and banjoist Rob. The band bears his name, but it is the unmistakable high mountain tenor vocals that serve as McCoury's foremost artistic trademark along with a repertoire that has regularly boasted string music reworkings of tunes by such non-bluegrass greats as Tom Petty, Richard Thompson and Robert Cray.

This is a big birthday year for McCoury. His career turned 50, the singer himself turned 70 and last May he performed at Madison Square Garden as part of an all-star concert honoring folk icon Pete Seeger's 90th birthday.

But next month, the next chapter begins. A new McCoury Band album, Family Circle, is due out Oct. 27.

Saturday's headliner at Terrapin Hill will be a very different all-star team. The band, called Super Heroes, brings together bassist George Porter Jr. and guitarist Leo Nocentelli of the acclaimed New Orleans funk brigade The Meters; keyboardist Bernie Worrell, whose extensive career includes work with Parliament/Funkadelic in the '70s and Talking Heads in the '80s;) and former John Scofield Band drummer Adam Deitch.

For a complete performance schedule, and camping and festival information, go to www.terrapinhillfarm.com/festival.

Blues Traveler

8 p.m. Sept. 25 at Buster's Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St. $25. www.bustersbb.com.

More than 25 years on, Blues Traveler continues to hit the road playing for the jam band faithful, still with nearly all of its original lineup intact and a rock mix built evenly around John Popper's wheezy harmonica runs — and similarly winding vocal leads —and guitarist Chan Kinchla's chunky guitar fills.

Back in Lexington for a performance Friday at Buster's, today's Blues Traveler seems to be at a creative crossroads. Its newest record, 2008's North Hollywood Shootout is, at times, a disturbingly slick affair that seems to play against the still-earnest drive the band creates in concert.

A song like You, Me and Everything is indicative of the route taken on Shootout. It's all sunny fun in the vein of Blues Traveler's massive 1995 hit, Run Around, but with a keyboard gloss providing as much color to the melody as harmonica. But the album-closing aural collage/rant with Bruce Willis — Free Willis (Ruminations From Behind Uncle Bob's Machine Shop) is a serious head-scratcher.

On an audience recording of a performance at Lake Tahoe two weeks ago (posted, with the band's blessing, at www.archive.org), nuggets like 1997's Carolina Blues remain full of big guitar fun — specifically, the sort of earthy but over-the-top hooks that bring vintage bands like Mountain to mind. But Popper's vocals and the keyboard undercurrents of Ben Wilson make the band sound anything but retro.

Here's hoping the later Blues Traveler is the one that shows up at Buster's on Friday.

Tennessee blues-soul rockers The Last Straw will open.

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