“Where have you been?” “I was home for DelFest, it’s a bluegrass festival in my hometown,” “How was that…I can’t even imagine…”
You can imagine, but until you experience DelFest for yourself, you won’t understand it. DelFest is four days of music, fun and love to kick off your summer.
Start with the setting, DelFest is located at the Allegany County Fairgrounds in Cumberland, Maryland. The fairgrounds are settled in the valley with the nearby Potomac River separating Maryland from the mountains overlooking in West Virginia. 2016 was the ninth year of DelFest on Memorial Day weekend in Cumberland. The weather has varied over the years, chilly days when you better layer up and hot days where it’s best to put on your swimsuit and listen to the music echo off the mountains while you float down the cool river. The usual rain and thunder storms like to make their appearance too, but it’s just part of the DelFest tradition now it seems. The only protest DelFest goers have for the weather, “Del yeah, hail no!” (Hail has made an appearance or two).
So what is DelFest? According to delfest.com, “DelFest was born from the desire to create a family-friendly music festival celebrating the rich legacy of McCoury music by providing a forum for world-class musical collaborations while also exposing fresh new talent.” There’s Del McCoury, the father, an American bluegrass legend who sings and plays guitar in “The Del McCoury Band” along with his sons, Ronnie, who plays the mandolin and Rob, who plays the banjo. Cumberland was the first site Del looked at and he was sold when he saw the river, the rock cliffs and perspective festival grounds.
“Once we had a festival, we didn’t plan on having it just one year, we wanted it to go on and be a part of the community and help the community,” said McCoury. (Larry 2016)
Through the years DelFest has raised and donated over $250,000 for local charities. This year the McCoury’s participated in a Habitat for Humanity “Build Blitz” where they helped construct a home in Cumberland. The heart and soul the McCoury’s put into this festival is returned by the love and sense of community DelFest brings each year.
The Del McCoury Band is the core of the music lineup. Each year, on the first day of DelFest, The Del McCoury Band kicks off Thursday with sound check. Beyond the family band is a mix up of incredibly talented Americana, bluegrass, rock, funk and soul artists. This year there were 36 music groups that played on three different stages. Some big name artists are Railroad Earth, Greensky Bluegrass, Old Crow Medicine Show, Yonder Mountain String Band, Trampled by Turtles, The Infamous Stringdusters and Keller Williams. These groups are festival favorites and have returned to play on the DelFest stage more than once. The up-and-coming band The Broomestix is a funky 10-person band, whose members graduated from high school just a few days before playing this year. Evan McCoury, Ronnie’s son, is the guitar player in the band. The variety of music and venue space plays a huge role in attracting fans from all ages to the festival.
So what is more fun than spending four days in the beauty of the mountains of Maryland, listening to amazing musicians, dancing in the rain and being surrounded by love? Nothing I can think of. There is plenty of good food at the festival, a fan favorite is Pie for the People’s David Bowie pizza. There are great beverage stations to grab a coffee drink, a water, or a beer complete with a Klean Kanteen souvenir cup. There are vendors selling instruments, clothes, Tarpestrys, Eno hammocks and handmade crafts and artwork. And the trend occurs again, those (vendors) who come to DelFest come back. DelFest even provides a kidzone with many activities for the children to enjoy the festival. There are arts and crafts, hula hoops and jump ropes to use and scheduled workshops. On Saturday my little sister went to a young yogis class and her and I got our lips read by Ariana. If you are looking for something fun for the whole family on Memorial Day weekend, make your way to Cumberland.
Now you know the origin, the music and the fun, but you still don’t know the meaning. DelFest is a community, a family if you will. I have been to all but the first DelFest and I’ve seen it not only grow in population, but togetherness. DelFest has its own culture and vocabulary. A “Delbow” -basically a high five, but with elbows, are exchanged all weekend, “Del Yeah” is said in excitement, approval and used as an overall feeling. Those who are lucky to get close enough to Del can even score a “Delfie.” During the weekend it’s common to see several crowd members wearing stickers that read “Del Yeah,” “Fun sure is fun” “I have no complaints” and more. The staff and festival goers are focused on making DelFest the best it can be and ensuring everyone has a great time.
In 2016, artist Dre Anders requested any DelFest fans to send in a video of themselves singing “Get Together” by The Youngbloods to use as the chorus and for the video of her recording. The song and video were released right before DelFest and the names of those who participated were featured in the credits of Dre’s album. The video perfectly captures the fun, the good music and the meaning behind Delfest. I am happy to be one of those people in the video (1:03, bottom left). Watch it here: https://www.facebook.com/dre.anders.9/videos/g.603356589759681/1315734658442801/?type=2&theater“
DelFest is special to me because it’s in my hometown. I go home to Cumberland twice a year: Christmas and DelFest. And DelFest is definitely my favorite holiday. I have volunteered the past seven years for the beverage crew and this year I was given an opportunity to be late night beverage supervisor. I love that I am able to volunteer 16 hours of my weekend to the festival in exchange for a weekend pass. If I have sparked your interest, start following the DelFest social media accounts and go ahead and start planning to attend the 10th anniversary of DelFest in 2017. If you have any questions don’t hesitate to contact me!