The Grateful Ball: The Travelin' McCourys / Jeff Austin @ The Bootleg at the Atomic Cowboy Pavilion, St. Louis, MO

Words and photos by Duane Clawson
Thinking back, I’ve been a fan of bluegrass music for a mighty long time.  I really couldn’t pinpoint what I liked about this style of music, but there was something in the music that just felt right!  Later on, I would discover it was the realness of bluegrass music that appealed to me.  Nothing fake about bluegrass music; no pedals, no gadgets, just real musicians, playing really good music.

Last year, Jeff Austin, a former founding member of Yonder Mountain String Band, teamed up with the Travelin' McCourys to form the Grateful Ball, a bluegrass nod to the music of The Grateful Dead.  The two bands perform their own sets of music then combine to pay tribute to the Dead.  To some the concept of bluegrass musicians playing Grateful Dead songs may sound strange, but in reality, bluegrass music is where Grateful Dead founding member Jerry Garcia got his start.  So not so strange of a concept after all.

Before covering this show, I had no idea who Jeff Austin was, but after seeing him live, I won’t soon forget who he is!  I’m just gonna go on and say Mr. Austin is the Jimi Hendrix of mandolin players!  Just as the sun was setting over St. Louis, Austin took to the Bootleg stage with players on banjo, guitar, and upright bass.  Austin carries on the tradition of Yonder Mountain, with fiery licks and extended jams.  Playing the mandolin like a man possessed, Austin takes a cover of The Rolling Stones, “No Expectations” and builds it into a beautiful bluegrass jam!  Hard to believe this guy was the opening act!

The Travelin' McCourys were raised with bluegrass in their blood.  Rob and Ronnie McCoury, sons of bluegrass legend Del McCoury, front the Travelin' McCourys and carry on the family tradition.  The McCourys were raised onstage playing in the band that backed their famous father.  Although dad rarely tours, the McCourys are relentless travelers, playing almost anyplace, anytime, or anywhere.  Rob, a master on the banjo, and Ronnie, a master on the mandolin, have no trouble covering all genres of music.  A cover of Waylon Jennings, “Lonesome On’ry and Mean” sang by the band’s fiddle player, Jason Carter, is a testament to the bands versatility.

After a brief intermission, both bands returned to the stage to complete the Grateful Ball.  Diving deep in to the Dead’s catalog of music, The McCourys and Austin dust off old classics like, “Althea” and “Loser”.  The big sound of two guitars, two upright basses, two banjos, and two mandolins had a packed house hootin' and hollerin' during “Cumberland Blues”!  Near the end of the show, the lyrics from a nearly 9-minute-long version of, “Loose Lucy” pretty much summed up the night, “thank you for a real good time”.  Thanks to the Atomic Cowboy for hosting this great show!

Photos of the show are below:

Jeff Austin
The Travelin' McCourys
Contributed by Duane Clawson
The Grateful Ball: The Travelin' McCourys / Jeff Austin @ The Bootleg at the Atomic Cowboy Pavilion, St. Louis, MO The Grateful Ball: The Travelin' McCourys / Jeff Austin @ The Bootleg at the Atomic Cowboy Pavilion, St. Louis, MO Reviewed by Scott Rowe, Editor on 2:00:00 PM Rating: 5

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