LEWISBURG — At age 78, bluegrass superstar Del McCoury is showing no signs of slowing down.
McCoury, who grew up in York, has received 31 International Bluegrass Music Association Awards and won the 2013 Grammy for best bluegrass album. His career began in 1968 with the release of a solo album. Today, he tours with his sons, Ronnie and Rob, as the Del McCoury Band.
His appearance at Bucknell University Saturday as part of the Martin Guitar Gathering at the Weis Center of the Performing Arts is the latest event in a jam-packed schedule for his eponymous band.
“I’m really busy,” he said in a smooth southern accent during a phone interview last week. “We just got back from North Carolina, the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards in Raleigh.”
His schedule includes his own music festival, held each Memorial Day in Cumberland, Maryland. The festival celebrated its 10th year in 2017 and features bands from a variety of genres. During the week preceding the festival, he hosts a music academy where his sons and other musicians teach banjo, fiddle, mandolin, base fiddle and other instruments. The music academy has a waiting list each year, McCoury said.
“The students are booked year to year,” he said. “It’s hard to get new students because the old students will sign up already for next year.”
One reason McCoury is so in demand is his longevity in bluegrass. He took up the banjo at age 11 after listening to a radio broadcast featuring Earl Scruggs, who popularized the three-finger roll. McCoury took blue-collar jobs in construction and logging to support his family before jumping into the music industry full time in the early 1980s.
McCoury said he prefers to draw on common life experiences rather than his personal work experience when crafting music.
“I always think there’s a certain percentage of folks that would enjoy a song that pertains to trucks, tractor or horses, but all people know about love and heartache and murder and love songs that eventually turn into murder in the end,” he said. “I think that appeals to more people than other things I could have recorded through the years.”
McCoury said he will often record songs because he likes a melody. He helms the band on the guitar — a Martin Guitar, of course — while his sons play mandolin and banjo. Alan Bartram and Jason Carter round out the band on the bass and fiddle, respectively. The band’s makeup has helped it retain a classic bluegrass sound, even when trying new styles, McCoury said.
“I always thought in my mind the classic bluegrass band sound was with an acoustic guitar and a banjo, a fiddle and a bass fiddle,” he said. “With my band through the years, that’s the instruments I chose to have. Once in a while I play as a four-piece with a mandolin, but not often.”
During Saturday’s performance, the Del McCoury Band will trade off other stringed instruments for several Martin Guitars in honor of the brand. Band members will also participate in events throughout the day, including a free community guitar jam at 1:30 p.m. in the atrium lobby.
The band’s performance will begin at 7:30 p.m. with Bill and the Belles opening. Tickets are $28 for adults, $22 for seniors, $18 for youth under 18 and college students, and $10 for Bucknell University students. They can be purchased at www.Bucknell.edu/BoxOffice or by calling 570-577-1000.