Whew! This week we’re recovering from an amazing four days of bluegrass music while camped alongside thousands of people at a festival in western Maryland. Four days of live music, late nights, friendly neighbors, sunny skies, and so MUCH FUN. One of our goals when we started RVing was to see more live music. In some respects we’ve done pretty good by hitting up lots of free outdoor concerts around the country, along with a few other paid shows, but this was the first large, multi-day festival that we attended with the Airstream.
Tim first proposed the idea of attending DelFest way back in the fall. It seemed like just the kind thing we would like. For one, we love bluegrass music, and for two, our loose summer travel plans could easily be arranged to put us in the right place at the right time. So as soon as tickets went on sale we jumped on the bandwagon and made definite plans to be in Cumberland, Maryland for Memorial Day weekend. Months went by and finally it was time for DelFest 2015. Here’s a run down of all four days.
DelFest Day 1:
We departed Rocky Gap State Park first thing on Thursday morning and made the short drive over to the local college for check in. The check in station opened at 10, and we arrived around 11 to a jam packed parking lot and a huge line of people snaking out the door. Luckily the process was well organized, and we were able to park, wait in line, and get our bracelets and camping pass in about 30 minutes.
From there it was a short drive over to the Allegany County Fairgrounds. When we bought our tickets back in December we had three different RV camping options to choose from: RV Dry Camping Camping, RV Hook-ups (W & E), and Deluxe RV Camping (FHU). We figured there was no need to pay extra for hook-ups since we would most likely be in the full sun where we have plenty of solar power, and four days without a water or sewer hook-up is nothing. So we went with the dry camping option. It also kept the cost down. Dry camping was $31 per night, and on top of the we payed an additional $175 each for our 4 day music passes. For those of you who don’t want to do the math, that’s four days of music and camping for $475. Not bad considering there was a total of 37 bands and 53 shows over the course of four days.
We fully expected that the RV dry camping section would be a nothing but a giant parking lot with RVs jam packed together and generators running constantly. And it kind of was.
Except for some reason we got lucky. When we pulled in to the fair grounds the guy directing traffic checked our pass and told us to turn right away from the main RV dry area. Here we set up on a patch of grass with trees on one side and a fence on the other side separating us from some tents. We had plenty of space to put out our awning and chairs.
We did have some close by neighbors, but they turned out to be great folks. On one side was a couple from PA in a T@B trailer. We never met the wife, but guy’s name was Kevin. He was a recruiter for a large bank in PA who had made a pact with his buddies that that would each see 30 live music shows every summer. He came up a few short last year, and was determined to make the goal this year. I think he might one up his buddies after this weekend. On the other side, we had three guys with a van and couple tents. We let them borrow a few things they had forgotten such as a hammer and some cooking spices. To return the favor they brought us a giant plate of food one night, and a platter of grilled pork the next night. Now that’s what I call neighborly!
Music started the first day around 5pm with a sound check by the Del McCourey Band, followed by a full set by Steep Canyon Rangers. We skipped both since we planned to see them later in the weekend. The show schedule was posted a few months ago, and since then Tim has been making us a loose plan for who we wanted to see and when. With three separate stages and lots of overlapping shows there was no way we could see everyone, and it was nice to go into the weekend with a kind of, sort of plan of action (or sometimes in action). After a leisurely dinner at home we wandered down to the main grandstand stage for Shovels & Rope, and Greensky Bluegrass. Shovels & Rope are one of the bands that we only started listening to after learning that they would be playing at DelFest. They have quickly become one of our go to bands that we listen to often. As expected, this husband and wife duet from South Carolina put on an awesome show.
After they played we made a quick run back to the Airstream to use our bathroom (no port-o-lets for us) and refill our drinks. No outside alcohol was allowed by the grandstand stage, but you could bring water bottles …water bottles that easily doubled as alternative beverage containers if you know what I mean. Greensky Bluegrass put on an incredible show. This is one of our favorite bluegrass bands and we were excited to finally see them live. They did not disappoint. In fact, at the end of the weekend we both agreed that this stood out as our very favorite show.
DelFest Day 2:
Day two brought blue skies and sunshine. We enjoyed a leisurely morning eating breakfast in front of the Airstream while listening to the fist act of the day, a local band called Grand Ole’ Ditch. DelFest has a total of three stages – the grandstand stage, the indoor music stage, and the Potomac stage. This last one was close enough to where we were parked that we got to enjoy all the bands who played there right from our front yard.
After lunch we headed over to the indoor music stage to see Town Mountain. Tim said we had listened to them before, but I think I only recognized one of their songs. It was a good show, but I wasn’t overly fond of standing on a concrete floor. Next we brought our chairs along with some snacks and beverages (no rules about alcohol at this stage) and set up in a sunny spot in front of the Potomac stage for The Black Lilies. This is anther group that we only recently discovered. Love them. Great, great show.
Then it was back to the Airstream to rest up for the evening shows at the grandstand stage. This came to be our pattern for the next few days. Wander over to see a show, wander back to nap, or read, or sit in the shade. Because of the large number of people all trying to use the same cell tower, we barely had any Internet. This is really rare for us, and I have to admit that it was a welcome break.
The main shows for the evening at the grandstand stage were Railroad Earth and Old Crow Medicine Show. They were both really good shows, but we especially enjoyed Old Crow Medicine Show. For everyday listening we would normally consider then too far on the country western side of the spectrum, but for a live show they were pretty awesome. The energy on stage was amazing, and they worked hard to get the crowd involved. This isn’t the best photo, but it does demonstrate some of their stage presence.
Old Crow ended around midnight and while I headed back to the Airstream where my bed was waiting, Tim went over to the music stage to see the late night show. Every night two different bands played from a little after midnight until 4am. The tickets were an extra $25, and even though this particular night they had sold out, he was able to buy one off some guy within a few minutes of waiting outside the door. The bands playing that night were Steep Canyon Rangers and Greensky Bluegrass. His report was good, and he was able to see the bands really close, but he ended up with some pretty sore feet and legs the next day after standing for nearly 8 hours of music!
DelFest Day 3:
As expected we had a very late start on Saturday. Tim slept in while I lazed around in my chair outside. We ended up hanging around the house until after lunch and then brought our chairs over to the Potomac stage for a few hours. The first band was the Brothers Comatose. We saw them once before when they opened for the Devil Makes Three in Phoenix. We have listened to them a lot since then and definitely enjoyed the band more the second time around.
After that we decided to stick around for Ashleigh Flynn and the Porch Climbers. By the time they finished we were feeling kind of crispy from the sun and decided to retreat back to the Airstream where we listened to the next act, Nikki Bluhm & The Gramblers from the shade of our awning.
The grandstand acts that evening didn’t hold a lot of appeal for us. So instead of going and standing on the field like we had the previous two nights, we brought our dinner and sat in the shaded grandstand seating for the Jeff Austin show.
DelFest Day 4:
Another slow start and lazy morning. We did decided to get off our butts and take a walk around the fairground though. I can confirm that after seeing all the different RV options, we were extremely happy with our spot. The only problem with scoring such a prime location is that if we ever go again anywhere else will be disappointing. Some of the FHU spots near the tress weren’t too bad looking, but the under cover FHU spots looked terribly unappealing. Ironically, they were also the most expensive.
The tent sites were spread around quite a bit. You had your choice of open field, wooded, or next to the river. The wooded sites looked nice, but it was a really long walk from there to the music. They also had a quiet zone area for families to set up. Which we found kind of funny since it’s been our experience that families with kids are usually the loudest ones in any campground :) But I understand the idea, and I’m sure it was nice for the families to know they wouldn’t be camped next to some a bunch of 20 year olds partying all night long. In fact, the entire festival was very family friendly and well attended by those with kids in tow. DelFest has a reputation for having a mellow vibe, and everything we observed, from quiet nights, to friendly and considerate people, to a wide variety off attendees, seemed to confirm this notion.
We also stopped in the see a model train set up in one of buildings on the fair grounds. This impressive display was created and maintained by a bunch of train enthusiasts over at the Maryland and West Virginia Model Railroad Association.
The entire top floor of the building was filled with train tracks and model villages and farms. Model trains of all kinds zipped around the track through tunnels and around buildings. They even had a pretty sweet model circus!
When it was time for the afternoon shows we headed down to the grandstand stage lawn with our chairs. This time we smartened up and brought along our sun umbrella. It was quite warm out, and we were both still looking a bit red in the legs from the day before. Even with the shade, we were hot, but stuck it out (with the aid of some local homemade frozen custard) for both Lake Street Dive and Leftover Salmon. We listen to both of these bands on a regular basis, and while the shows were good, I think at this point in the long weekend we were feeling a little burnt out and didn’t enjoy them as much as if we had seen them a day or two prior.
Luckily there was a 45 minute break before the next band and were able to go back to the Airstream and refresh and refuel for the last two acts of the weekend. First up was the Del McCoury Band. For those of you who don’t know, Del McCoury is pretty much considered the father of Bluegrass. Along with his band, this energetic, white haired legend delighted the crowd with some of their new songs. Del is also the inspiration and host behind the DelFest, and along with his equally as talented sons, the McCourys played every day of the festival. For some reason I didn’t get a single photo of the Del or his band, but trust me when I say he’s one rocking 76 year old!
The last act of the night was Trampled by Turtles. We saw them last summer at Red Rocks in Colorado. And while the setting at Red Rocks can’t be beat, this show was way better. Before the show started Tim convinced me to come with him to the front of the stage. I was hesitant at first because I was sure as soon as the music started everyone would push forward. But it ended up being a very well behaved crowd, and for maybe the first time ever I was actually able to see the musicians. We listen to Tramped by Turtles a lot, but I think our appreciation of their musical talent increased greatly after watching them play up close. The two guys who played the mandolin and the fiddle were especially impressive. I can’t imagine how they make their fingers move that fast!
I don’t know if we’ll ever find ourselves in western Maryland for Memorial Day again, but if we do, you can bet that we’ll be attending another DelFest!