Tyler Childers Goes Bluegrass to Cap Off 2022 DelFest

photo: Brian Turnwald

Editor’s Note: This review was written by freelance journalist, and long-time Saving Country Music reader/commenter Matthew Bashioum.

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Sunday night (5-29), Tyler Childers returned to the main stage of DelFest. But unlike in 2019 when he played a straightforward, daytime supporting set, this time Childers was the headliner backed by the festival’s namesake backing band, The Travelin’ McCourys, for a spirited bluegrass jamboree.  

Since the pandemic, Childers has retreated into these Appalachian Mountains to reconnect with himself, his faith, family, and community. Sunday was a homecoming of sorts for Childers, who like most every young man that goes through a rebellious, experimental phase, eventually comes back home to his rearing, and he’s wiser from learning from his mistakes.

Gone from the 2019 set was the long-haired, stoner Childers who didn’t shy away from singing about recreational drug use and seeking out good times. This was a trim, fit, sober, younger-looking Childers who often morphed into a fire and brimstone preacher – “Gather your sheep, it’s the end of the world” / “Old time screamin’ and a shoutin’, go up and tell it on the mountain.” Childers’ role as the undisputed, blue-collared voice of Appalachia was only enhanced by the style of music that defines this region: bluegrass. 

The set got off to a clumsy, uneven start and Childers would later admit to being stung by a hornet on his left ear (and its ensuing swelling) and getting poison oak on his arms earlier in the week. But after Del McCoury joined him and the boys for a stunning rendition of “Old Country Church,” everything was made right. 

To the dismay of some in the crowd, Childers leaned heavy into the off-beat Gospel theme in a bluegrass style. Ignoring the calls for “Feathered Indians” (“I’m not playing that one tonight, so you can stop screaming for it”) and the occasional “play some bluegrass” from the hardcore stalwarts who thought Childers interpretation of this style was a little loose, he and the McCourys churned out the Gospel in the form of new songs “Luke Chapter 2 Verses 8-10” (Childers’ first Christmas song), “Greatest Story,” and “Triune God.”

Also included in the set were bluegrass versions of songs from the Childers catalog: “House Fire,” “Honky Tonk Flame,” and “Bottles & Bibles.” For the hardcore Childers’ fans, the best moments of night were when he went acoustic and performed stunning versions of “Lady May,” “Follow You to Virgie,” and the Appalachian Anthem, “Nose on the Grindstone.” The latter sent a feverish chorus raging across the banks of Potomac River and racing up the mountains and throughout West Virginia and the Appalachian chain. 

A surprise highlight of the set was a wonderful song Childers gave to his buddies The Wooks, “Seng” – “Berries on the mountain side, ‘seng, ‘seng, ‘seng.”

I’m not sure if anyone really needed a bluegrass version of Charlie Daniels’ Trudy (maybe that song as the nightly closer for years has just run its course in general), but that’s how Childers and the 4-day festival’s run closed out. 

See the full Tyler Childers set list below.

As for other performers on the day, Molly Tuttle didn’t sit “Side Saddle” for any of the male dominated acts on the Grandstand Stage. She and her band, Golden Highway, more than held their own backed by surprise sit-in guest, Jerry Douglas. She played it close (and flawlessly) to her newly released Crooked Tree, except for a rousing rendition of Townes’ “White Freight Liner Blues” to close out her set.

If you want reassurance bluegrass music is in good hands as the generations pass, look no further than the Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band. Four young men from the California Bay area (two still in high school, one graduated last week and will attend UCLA, and one in college attending Cal Poly as an engineer). Four brilliant men who have obviously studied the history of bluegrass and perfected their craft. This isn’t any experimentation or interpretation of bluegrass or any trendy genre bending; they played straight up Flatt and Scruggs proud. If these kids don’t go on to become rocket scientists, they will be a force in the genre. 

DelFest was amazing. The best run festival I ever attended (and we walked in cold on the last day). We went the whole day without seeing one fight, a drunk, or one police officer – amazing. There’s a strong hippie factor and they embrace and preach the code. Furthermore, DelFest is a very family-oriented affair. Kids of all impressionable ages wander the grounds, and some hopefully caught the music bug over the course of the four days.

I hope that if we are ever faced with another pandemic, we learned enough from this past one to prevent music from ever being shut down again. When music was shut down, how many kids missed their chance to fall in love with music? For the health of the music industry and the mental health of us all, I hope we’ve found a safer way to handle pandemics that doesn’t shut down music again.

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Tyler Childers and the Travelin’ McCourys Set List 

1. House Fire
2. Percheron
3. The Greatest Story Ever Told
4. Old Country Church w/ Del McCoury
5. Bottles & Bibles
6. Phone Calls & Emails
7. Luke Chapter 2 Verses 8-10
8. ‘Seng
9. Honk Tonk Flame
10. Triune God 
11. Nose on the Grindstone (Acoustic)
12. Lady May (Acoustic)
13. Follow You to Virgie (Acoustic) 
14. Rustin’ in the Rain
15. Trudy

Photos below from Brian Turnwald.

Tyler Childers with The Travelin’ McCourys
Tyler Childers and Del McCoury
Molly Tuttle
Sierra Hull
Crying Uncle Bluegrass Band
Del McCoury Band
Del McCoury with Sam Bush
So much for the culture war of oldgrass vs. newgrass
Del McCoury Receives Award from the State of Maryland
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