Memorial Day weekend typically kicks off the beginning of summer. More importantly, Memorial Day weekend signals the start of festival season. If you’re a bluegrass or progressive string music fan that can only mean one thing: DelFest!
DelFest is a four-day, medium sized, traditional bluegrass and progressive string music festival set in the beautiful Allegany Mountains on the panhandle of westernmost Maryland.
Nestled in the picturesque Potomac River Valley, just outside the town of Cumberland, MD, DelFest takes place on the Allegany County Fairgrounds. Awe-inspiring, beautiful light grey limestone cliffs on the West Virginia side of the Potomac River overlook the fairgrounds.
This year DelFest runs from May 25 – 28, 2017.
DelFest is named after Bluegrass icon Del McCoury. Del was an original member of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys. The festival is organized and produced by Del and the McCoury family. This wonderful family-oriented festival is now going on its 10th year. Over the years attendance has grown and now typically ranges from 25,000 – 30,000 over the four-day period.
Over the ten-year history of DelFest some amazing talent has graced its three stages. Some famous names have included bluegrass icons such as Sam Bush, Peter Rowan, Bela Fleck and David Grisman. Country western stars like Vince Gil and major acts like The Tedeschi Trucks Band, String Cheese Incident, and Greensky Bluegrass have also played. Other fan favorites have included: Yonder Mountain String Band, Old Crow Medicine Show, Trampled by Turtles, Dark Star Orchestra, and The Avett Brothers.
DelFest has three Stages:
The Main Stage, known as the Grandstand Stage, is set on the infield of the horse racing track overlooked by a huge, vintage grandstand.
The Potomac Stage is an outdoor stage where up and coming acts play throughout the day.
The Music Hall indoor venue hosts smaller, more intimate acts during the day and raucous late night shows after hours.
Camping at Delfest:
There is onsite camping including VIP RV camping with hookups, primitive RV camping (without hookups), VIP tent camping and general admission camping. There is a separate area designated for family camping. There is also a prepaid glamping option offered by The Show Sherpa, which is separate from the ticketing options for the festival. The VIP options include several amenities including: stage front access, special shaded areas, snacks, drinks and light meals throughout the day, a souvenir cup, beer and wine tickets, private restrooms, prime camping or RV spots, a tee shirt, a poster and other promotional schwag. VIP camping, VIP RV and RV options sell out quickly.
If you’ve never been to DelFest, here are some PRO tips from this experienced DelFest-ivarian:
Make sure you know the check-in procedure for your class of ticket. Check-in procedures have varied from year to year and vary based on your ticket type. Specifically, be aware that the past two years general admission check-in has been conducted at a college several miles away from the festival. Trust me it’s a major pain in the ass to go all the way to the festival and be told you have to double back several miles just to check in. So check the website before you get there.
If you have a general admission ticket, make sure to bring a cart or a dolly to hump your stuff to your campsite, especially if you have a lot of gear. You won’t be able to park near your campsite unless you buy VIP tickets. If you have general admission tickets it can be quite a hump with your gear to your spot. (You are allowed to pull your vehicle onto the festival grounds to off load but you need to get it off site ASAP so that others can off load.)
Parking isn’t included in your ticket; it requires a separate ticket. There is onsite paid parking but it’s not cheap. There is also off site parking which costs considerably less. The off site parking is a short walk to the festival grounds. There is also off site parking in the nearby residential area for even less. Unless you want onsite paid parking, you can wait until you get to the festival to pay for parking and avoid the extra online fees.
Bring your bathing suit, inner tubes and other flotation devices. The Potomac River borders the fairgrounds and lots of folks enjoy tubing the stretches of the river adjacent to the festival. The river level and speed has varied widely from year to year.
DelFest is subject to extreme weather swings. It reminds me of Wakarusa. It tends to be very humid. It can be warm and mostly sunny and within 15-30 minutes a major thunderstorm with high winds can roll in and dump an inch or two of rain on you. Make sure you batten down your campsite before you head to the show. One year there was even hail. Legend has it a tornado briefly touched down in the area during the festival many moons ago. (Plan accordingly.)
Unless you have VIP tickets, you must purchase separate tickets to each late night show. The actual space in these late night shows can vary widely from show to show. It takes a LOT of energy to make it to all 4 late night shows and make it to the early shows the next day. Last year’s Greensky Bluegrass and Cabinet late night show was insanely crowded, hot and stifling. In fact, it was so crowded that I left a couple of songs into Cabinet’s set because the sardine scene wasn’t for me. I later heard a couple of folks passed out at the show.
DelFest is a family friendly event with lots of families, kids and young adults running around. Do not be a Wook, leave the nitrous tanks and bath salts at home. In fact if you’re a Wook, please don’t bother to come.
For children ages 5 – 12, DelFest offers a variety of activities in the Kidzone adjacent to the family camping area. The Kidzone and the Allegany Arts Council Arts Bus host fun events like tie-dying, hula hooping, face painting, chalk drawings, scavenger hunts, field day games, environmental education activities and an epic water balloon battle.
For adults, Delfest offers “Playshops” which include: yoga, meditation, hoop and fire dancing and sacred geometry.
DelFest is a celebration of the McCoury Family. You can feel the genuine love between Del and his son’s. Ronnie often refers to Del as “dad” from the stage. It’s pretty cute. Del gets up and plays at least one song with every band that plays on the main stage. You can see the reverence in the faces of band members when Del joins them.
Del hosts afternoon family picking sessions in the Music Hall. These sessions focus on traditional bluegrass and include Del, his brother, his sons and grandsons. It’s pretty touching and if you love traditional bluegrass like I do, it’s a do not miss.
If you run out of beer or wine at your campsite, there’s a bar about a quarter of a mile off the festival grounds that will sell you take out.
If you’re too pooped to get up off your ass to get to the main stage, whether it’s a clear night or you find yourself trapped in your tent or car during a torrential downpour, the limestone cliffs and the valley itself act as a natural amphitheater so you can hear the music pretty well from your campsite.
“Del-isms” abound. What’s a Del-ism you ask? A Del-ism is any word that you can put the prefix “Del” in front of for instance, hell yeah becomes Del-yeah, your elbow becomes your Del-bow, a selfie becomes a Del-fie and your celebration becomes a Del-ebration (I thought that one up last year). It’s one more thing to do when you’re sitting in a circle around the fire while drunk.
Well that’s about all my brain can dump about DelFest for the moment. Have a GREAT TIME. And as always I hope to “catch you on the rail”. Namaste and Del-Yeah!