May 26-29, 2016, Cumberland, MD
Written by Caitlin Deane
Photos by Brady Cooling
DelFest 2016 was an adventure! I arrived on Thursday evening to the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, MD. Staff guided patrons through roads and parking lots like a finely tuned machine, making the transition into the festival smooth. I parked in the off-site parking lot, but with a shuttle that ran every 15-20 minutes getting from car to campsite was never a hassle.
The Allegany County Fairgrounds are super beautiful. Mountains surround the festival creating natural walls that make it feel like you are hidden away from the rest of civilization and in your own little world of music. The venue is huge- and extremely well maintained with facilities open to patrons like free showers and indoor bathrooms.
After seeking out a great spot to set up camp for the weekend and briefly meeting very kind and welcoming neighbors, I hurried off to the Grandstand, which was the main stage located in the music meadow, to catch Yonder Mountain String Band. Their sound was crisp, and a captivating blend of traditional bluegrass music with a more progressive modern twist.
I took my first tour of the vendor row in the dark and got the first taste of the notable variety in crafts that were offered at DelFest. There were local artists vending their pottery, leather workers, glassblowers, makers of soap and lotions, and folks selling gorgeously constructed bluegrass instruments. In the daylight of the next morning, you could really take in just how big the vendor row was stretching the span of the back edge of the music meadow. I really appreciated the way that these booths were set up because it gave the vendor row a really nice arts-fest vibe, gave the area a more sophisticated feel, and highlighted that these artists were selling handmade original work.
Friday I took a trip over to the edge of the festival grounds, where I came upon the entrance to the river. (It wasn’t hard to find- tons of people rushed down to it with their tubes as the sun heated up the day!) The Potomac river runs around the edge of the festival and you can float in the cooling waters as long as you can find a tube! The river’s entrance was a shady, cool, and popular place.
There were three stages at DelFest, The Grandstand being the largest where most headlining acts played, and the Potomac being the secondary outdoor stage. (I overheard in passing an attendee describing this stage as ‘the party stage’- and I wouldn’t disagree, everyone out front of this location always seemed to be smiling and dancing their hearts out- even through the bouts of rain.) Thirdly, the Music Hall hosted bands throughout the day, performances late night, and yoga playshops in the mornings. The yoga playshops were so popular that attendees who couldn’t fit into the room decided to follow along in the hallway!
As expected, the performances at DelFest were just phenomenal. There were over thirty different musical acts performing, and it was truly a treat to see them collaborate with each other. Artists at large like the incredibly talented Sierra Hull joined forces with bands to create an even more musically enchanting experience! One attendee described Sierra as ‘one of the most earnest mandolin players he had ever seen.’ You can tell by the way she performs that she really believes in the music she plays.
Other headlining acts included bands like Railroad Earth, Cabinet, Greensky Bluegrass, Keller Williams, Yonder Mountain String Band, and of course, The Del McCoury Band (to name just a few). Del McCoury himself is such a charming performer- he is always smiling and his voice is comforting and warm. Tedeschi Trucks Band had a really exciting performance and one of my favorites of the festival. Their sound was full of splendor and variety- I loved how it rocketed from the stage. I saw people dancing in the mud harder than any other set that day. Their two drummers and horn players made people splash through the muck without a care in the world. They also covered Bob Dylan’s “Don’t Think Twice It’s Alright” and that was stupendous.
Despite lots of rain, the festival had an extremely cheerful essence to it. You can truly tell that this is an event that patrons return to year after year as they remarked “It wouldn’t be DelFest without rain!” and bumped ‘Delbows’ with each other while exclaiming “Del Yeah!” The sense of community and the large amount of children really gave DelFest a down to earth welcoming energy in the midst of a large festival- and that’s not something you can achieve just anywhere- I think it can be chalked up to the kind and charming nature of the entire McCoury family.
If you’re a lover of Bluegrass music, or just interested in a festival that keeps things light and welcoming with an upbeat feel- DelFest 2017 should be on your calendar!