An Evening With The Del McCoury Band and the Mayhem String Band

Music in the Hall, Episode I

From his office in Oxford’s oldest building on the square, Daniel Morrow, of Oxford Music Snob fame, thought the long, narrow hall with hardwood floors and high ceilings was screaming for something more than just office space. He envisioned an intimate music hall to be utilized on special occasions. On Thursday night, the ordinary hall with immense potential was transformed into an inaugural event billed as “Music In The Hall (Episode I).”

About 50 chairs were lined up in the hall for an unplugged, acoustic set by the Mayhem String Band. About as many guests attended, brown-bagging it or bringing their own small coolers. Mixers, water and soft drinks were available for donations.

The event was intended as a pre-game warm up for the return of bluegrass greats, the Del McCoury Band (who were performing at the Lyric Theatre later that night). After about a 50 minute set to the appreciative crowd, the Mayhem String Band rushed across the street to open for Del and the boys.

Music In The Hall (Episode I) was well-received. Both Morrow and the partygoers anticipate a successful Episode II at a later date.

[photo slideshow at end of article]

The Lyric

Like Morrow, Lyric Theatre co-owner Bradley Bishop was able to look past what was once Copy Time and picture the majesty of a music venue similar to The House Of Blues or Tipitina’s. What used to house businesses has been refurbished and turned into a multi-purpose venue with a focus on live music. Only a few months old, the Lyric has already created a buzz by hosting such diverse bands as the Kudzu Kings, Lord T & Eloise, Three 6 Mafia, Neko Case, the Drive-by Truckers, Sound Tribe Sector 9, and on Thursday, the return of the Del McCoury Band.

For Thursday night’s show, tables and chairs were set out in horseshoe from the soundboard and the stage, leaving room in front of the stage (and in the center of the venue between the tables) to dance if one were so inclined.

The Del McCoury Band had not been to Oxford since headlining the 2002 Double Decker Festival, a show that’s still revered around these parts. A consummate bluegrass band, and named the “Entertainer of the Year” seven times by the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards since 1990, it’s safe to say they’re considered living legends.

Del has been playing bluegrass since the 1940’s, and in the early 1960’s was asked by “The Father of Bluegrass”, Bill Monroe, to join his Blue Grass Boys. Soon after, Del became the group’s lead singer and shed his original instrument, the five-string banjo, for the rhythm guitar.

Since the early 1990s, Del’s sons Ronnie (mandolin) and Robbie (banjo) have played and toured together with their father in what is now known as the Del McCoury Band.

Decked in black, mostly pin-striped suits with accompanying ties and cufflinks, they looked every bit the part of a professional bluegrass ensemble. The smiling front man with his high lonesome sound could have simply played crowd requests all night. The audience was definitely Del-literate. After starting the show with a few tunes, Del asked for requests. He had so many that he could not play them all.

“White House Blues,” he said after a thirty something woman called the tune. “We have not played that in two years. I hope I remember all the words.” Of course, he did.

From the stage, Del looked down at a piece of paper that had been laid in front of him. “I see a picture of a motorcycle. What do you want to bet that’s a 1952 Vincent Black Lightning?”

Among the other requests the band played were “All Aboard,” “Travelin’ Teardrop Blues” and “Get Down On Your Knees And Pray.” The requests were sandwiched between Del McCoury Band mainstays like “Thanks A Lot,” “Nashville Cats,” and “It’s Just The Night.” They played “Smoking Gun,” a song made famous by Robert Cray and “Forty Acres And A Fool” an obligatory song off their upcoming album.

For about an hour and a half the Del McCoury Band gave the crowd exactly what they came to see. Afterwards, they were gracious enough to hang around their merchandise table and sign albums for sale, or posters, or take pictures with their fans.

[photo slideshow at end of article]

Mayhem String Band @ Music in the Hall

Del McCoury Band @ The Lyric

[photo credit: Derek Moreton]

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  1. Wow, that post more than any other makes me miss Oxford. Thanks for that and those pictures.

    Question: any truth to the rumor that Eli and some other investors have bought the Downtown Grill?

  2. our pleasure, SD.. we’re lucky to have Derek on board..

    hadn’t heard about the Eli rumor, though..

    Derek, you heard any rumblings? Kevin.. how about you?

  3. Don’t know specifics about The Grill other than they will be doing “extensive renovations” this spring that will take several months (through the end of March, at least). I don’t know when exactly they are supposed to start.

  4. SuperDude-

    Follow-up to the Grill… Plans fell through, although I don’t know what they were. The Grill will not be shut down for a while due to renovations. Don’t know if there will be any renovations at all.


  1. Howdy | Oxford - [...] the things that define it.  This site actually was the first to cover my project Music in the Hall ...

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