Reviewed by Jeffrey B. Remz
he concert was a homecoming of sorts for Ronnie and Rob McCoury, two of the mainstays of The Travelin' McCourys. After all, their father was born in the general area as were they.
So, while perhaps coming home could have been the motivator, one got the distinct sense that that was just another night of "work" for the band, which includes four-fifth of the Del McCoury Band - everyone except the man for whom the band is named after. Put it another way, they sure made their line of work look real easy.
What was not typical was the format - the Jeff Austin Band opened with a longer set than the McCourys (85 minutes vs. 65), but then the two combined for a tour de force of songs from The Grateful Dead on The Grateful Ball Tour.
Austin, a founder of Yonder Mountain String Band, stuck to his jam band roots in a set that cooked. Austin was a force on mandolin, often facing off with resophonic guitarist Jay Starling, who added lots of color. They certainly brought the music to a new level, but the group also went to the well a bit too often with Austin and Starling.
In jam band style, Austin also was more than happy to let the songs play out, seemingly come to an end and stretch out awhile longer, sometimes a bit too long.
The McCourys were a talented bunch, no surprise given their regular gig. Ronnie McCoury and bassist Alan Bartram supplied most of the vocals with McCoury taking the lion's share. Fiddler player Jason Carter also took a vocal, but was a tour de force on his instrument of choice.
Rob McCoury had a few turns on banjo, but was more in the background, ceding the spotlight to others. When afforded the chance, he was more than up to the task.
From song selection to musical prowess, The Travelin' McCourys were the real deal.
When the two bands came together, it made for a chance to stretch out on Dead tunes, including a strong version of "Deal" and "Cumberland Blues." Austin had a Jerry Garcia vocal vibe about him both in his own set and with the combined forces.
The stage was crowded with two upright bassists at times, mandolins and acoustic guitars, but it also wasn't overkill with Ronnie McCoury and Austin tastefully trading licks. Carter and Starling still feasted on the opportunity to demonstrate their skills even more.
The pairing proved to be a winning combination and at some level, the total sum was even greater than its parts.