Concert Review: WAMU Bluegrass Country’s “Live at Forty-Five”

Juli Thanki | November 5th, 2012

WAMUlogoThe tight-knit Washington, DC bluegrass scene is something of a family, complete with its old salts, drunk uncles, and upstart young’uns, and radio station WAMU’s Bluegrass Country is the table around which everybody gathers.

In keeping with that spirit, to celebrate 45 years of broadcasting, Bluegrass Country invited two of the genre’s best family acts to fill George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium with music and laughter: reigning IBMA Entertainers of the Year the Gibson Brothers and the Del McCoury Band.

Eric and Leigh Gibson, with their harmonies that can lean Monroe or Everly depending on the material, delivered a crackling set of well-written originals and covers ranging from the Blue Sky Boys’ “Sunny Side of Life” to Tom Petty’s “Cabin Down Below.” Though the five-man band is perhaps physically incapable of delivering anything less than a fantastic show, there were a few special moments that stood out: their version of the instrumental “Tennessee Blues,” which showed off the band’s—especially fiddler Clayton Campbell and mandolin player Joe Walsh’s—often underrated picking prowess, and a delightful, unrecorded original, “We Called It Music,” that will hopefully find its way to the group’s next record, tentatively planned for a Spring 2013 release.

During his band’s set, living legend Del McCoury and his sons, who grew up not too far away from WAMU in York, Penn., shared their memories of listening to and performing on the station over the years. As with nearly all DMB shows, the set list was largely composed on the fly via shouted audience requests (a non-requested, but fantastic song that was one of the best parts of the night: bassist Alan Bartram’s spellbinding version of “Kentucky Waltz”). The eldest McCoury was in fine vocal form Saturday night, telling stories and playing fan favorites like “Blackjack County Chains” and “1952 Vincent Black Lightning.” Ignoring what appeared to be a “five minutes” signal from stage-side, McCoury delivered a scorching cover of “White House Blues” and a charming version, ironically forgotten lyrics and all, of “I Remember You,” dedicated to longtime WAMU DJ Katy Daley.

The Gibson Brothers joined the Del McCoury Band back onstage for a hastily assembled, but thoroughly enjoyable “Sunny Side of the Mountain” encore before the house lights came back on and the nearly full auditorium headed for the Metro or hailed cabs. It was a chilly evening, but with all the hot bluegrass and warm, fuzzy emotions in the air, it didn’t seem like anybody felt the cold.

 

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