Monday, July 30, 2018

Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival - Preview

The 47th Annual Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival will run at Salem County Fairground in Woodstown, NJ from August 31 - September 2 this year. Traditionally held on Labor Day weekend, this is one of the oldest and most distinguished continuing bluegrass festivals in the country, having been initiated in 1972 at the KOA campground in Bear, DE by Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley, including Lester Flatt his band along with a host of other bluegrass pioneers. Looking through the list in the link, you'll quickly see that through the years few of the bluegrass greats have been missed. 

The festival is operated by the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music, a 501(c)3 organization dedicated to the preservation and furtherance of Old Time and Bluegrass Music. Located within easy driving distance of the huge population living between New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., Delaware Valley was named the 2016 IBMA (International Bluegrass Music Association) Event of the Year.

When you come to Delaware Valley you can be sure that the festival will hew to its statement of purpose, but sometimes with a little twist. Old Time Music, for instance, may not always be string band music, but will represent the varieties of music that have influenced and enriched bluegrass and Old Time since the beginning. Music greats from country music, Cajun, western swing, Dixieland  jazz have been represented recently. Expect to hear the familiar and something different when you come to Delaware Valley. Know that it will always be excellent!

The Lineup
David Davis & the Warrior River Boys

David Davis & the Warrior River Boys come from northern Alabama where they have presented traditional bluegrass music, largely based in Bill Monroe's music, for over a generation. Their most recent recording on Rounder Records re-introduces audiences to Charlie Poole, an early transitional banjo player in North Carolina first recorded in the 1920's. Here's a sample to enjoy:

Dom Flemns

Dom Flemons was a founding member of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, important for their excellence in performing old time African-American string band tunes prominent in the musical culture giving birth to bluegrass and related music. He now performs as a solo act, giving him the freedom to explore the depth and breadth of his wide knowledge of America's roots musics. An accomplished multi-instrumentalist, Flemons helps continue the reputation of this festival as one where musical connections are made and strengthened. 

Don Flemons - Steel Pony Blues

Mile Twelve

A young band nurtured in the rich musical soup provided by Boston and Berklee College of Music, Mile Twelve has emerged as one of the important up-and-coming bands. They combine a neo-traditional sound with their own writing and unique musical personalities to engage audiences in tuneful, hard driving, soulful music. Mile Twelve has been nominated as Emerging Band of the Year by IBMA. 

Mile Twelve - Ace of Hearts

Suzy Bogguss

Country music star Suzy Bogguss made her recording debut in 1989, with her breakthrough album "Aces" going platinum in 1991. She has been Horizon singer of the year by the Country Music Association, won a Grammy Award, and more. Suzy continues to tour, collaborating this year in a "Chicks with Hits" tour with Terri Clark and Pam Tillis. The inclusion of commercial country music adds and additional flavor and star character to Delaware Valley.

Suzy BoggussAces

Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper

Michael Cleveland has been the premier traditional fiddler in bluegrass music for more than a decade. At any festival you attend, you'll not only find him playing with enthusiasm, but sitting in with other bands or jamming backstage and in the field. He's a bluegrass man through and through, with a thorough knowledge and mastery of all the classic bluegrass styles of fiddle playing. 

Fiddlin' Joe

Hot Rize - 90 minutes

The current tour of Hot Rize marks forty years since the emergence of the band in Colorado. From 1978 to their disbanding in 1990, Hot Rize always set the pace for change and tradition within the bluegrass world. As a capstone, they were recognized as the first IBMA Entertainer of the Year after the trade organizations founding in 1989. Since beginning to tour again in 2000 with the addition of Bryan Sutton on guitar, Hot Rize has been on a limited, but extremely popular, performance schedule in major venues. They were last at Delaware Valley in 2015. It's always good to see them.

Colleen Malone

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado

Jeff Scroggins & Colorado have, over the past three years become increasingly visible at festivals in the east as they venture further afield from their home in Colorado. Scroggins won the famed National Banjo Contest at Walnut Valley (Winfield) in 1989, but was not well known here in the East. Over the past two or three years, his band has become increasingly exciting as his son Tristan (Momentum Award Winner at IBMA last year)  on mandolin has become increasingly comfortable as the voice of the band,while engaging in friendly banter with fiddler Ellie Hakanon, a classically trained fiddler from Portland, OR. Ellie's harmony singing blends beautifully with lead singer Greg Blake, Originally from West Virginia, Blake has taken his powerful voice and fine guitar work to Colorado. This band is dynamic, musical, amusing, and fun. The combination of callow youth and deep experience sure works for me, and it will for you, too. Jeff Scroggins & Colorado has been nominated for IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year in 2018.

One Morning in May

Bill & the Belles

The fact that Chris Truelson is a radio broadcaster at Radio Bristol, housed in the Birthplace of Country Music Museum in Bristol, TN/VA, has formed the Bill of Bill & the Belles can't be simply a coincidence. His true to the early twentieth century radio and vaudeville vocal stylings character is too dead-on not to be related to where he works and his interests as a broadcaster. With veteran Boston singer and banjo player Grace Van't Hoff strumming a ukulele while leaning into the mic with her Clara Bow shaped lips, the music is wonderfully effective and evocative of an earlier age. 
Work Don't Bother Me

High Fidelity

The name of High Fidelity, to me, captures the quality this band exudes, fidelity to the early clarity found in bluegrass music coupled with the crisp, clear sound that only high fidelity recordings could create. Instead of seeking to recreate the look or sound of their passion for traditional bluegrass, they've woven a contemporary look and vocal dexterity to creating a faithful re-creation, never a copy. 

I Ain't Got Time

The Quebe Sisters

The Quebe Sisters will, sadly, only present one set, just before the supper break on Saturday afternoon. Make sure you don't miss it, though. Three dynamic fiddlers from Texas show you what Texas swing means in their triple fiddle dynamism put in just the right package - tight harmonies, first-rate fiddle, and dynamism. 

The Quebe Sisters - All of Me

Sister Sadie

Sister Sadie will be making their third appearance in the past four years at Delaware Valley this year, a booking event which seldom happens at this most interesting and creatively booked festival. Five of bluegrass and country music's busiest musicians, each known as a crucial side-musician for touring and recording, and led by five time IBMA Female Vocalist of the Year Dale Ann Bradley, Sister Sadie struck the audience dumb in their Sunday afternoon debut here in 2015. This year they're scheduled into two prime slots where you can't possibly miss them. They should be working at a festival every weekend, if each member weren't quite so in demand. Sister Sadie has been nominated for IBMA Emerging Artist of the Year for 2018

I'm Lonely Without You

Jerry Douglas Presents the Earls of Leicester (90 Minutes)

The Earls of Leicester recreate the sound and feel of the classic Flatt & Scruggs band of the period in the mid-sixties, when their two iconic appearances at Carnegie Hall occurred. While looking and sounding a lot like the original, each of these performers has a distinctive personality which, increasingly as they continue to perform beyond their wildest imagination when they formed. The Earls of Leicester have received two consecutive IBMA Entertainer of the Year Awards and are nominated for another this year. Sean Camp was named last year's Male Vocalist of the Year as he sings the role of Lester Flatt. This band has shown staying power!

Down the Road

Cell Tower in the Middle of the Fairgrounds

Be sure to capture and post your best moments at Delaware Valley as they happen on social media for your bluegrass (and other) friends. 


Sundays at many festivals is a getaway day often featuring one touring band along with a bunch of local and regional bands for die-hard bluegrass fans to enjoy before finally heading home. Sunday at Delaware Valley opens with performances by two youth groups, the Kids Academy directed by Ira Gitlin and staffed by a dedicated group of fine musicians who give their time to teach the next generation. It also features the students form Cab Calloway School of the Arts in nearby Wilmington. It is then followed by five first-rate bands for one set each. There's plenty of time to break camp and go home on Monday.

Kids Academy

The Kids Academy, under the direction of Ira Gitlin, meets for portions of all three days of the festival, presenting a performance on Sunday morning. The kids academies at many festivals during the summer represent a major effort to keep bluegrass instruments and music alive for yet another generation to experience the joys of making music together. For further information follow this link to the Delaware Valley web site and then help your kid to enroll. 

Kids Academy Rehearsal 

Cab Calloway School of the Arts

Cab Calloway School of the Arts in Wilmington, DE is a comprehensive high school with an important place in the forwarding of arts education. The group performing at Delaware Valley is a special interest club at the school directed by long-time teacher and old-time veteran Stephen Field. 

Stephen Field - Program Director
 Photo by Frank Baker

Po' Ramblin' Boys

The Po' Ramblin' Boys hit the stage with energy and musicality, largely playing the bluegrass music of the fifties and sixties with attention to detail, pace, and infectious enthusiasm. For instance, their version of "I'd Like to Be a Train," is a spot-on cover of the much earlier version recorded by Larry Sparks. Fittingly, for this festival, there's also a very strong Stanley Brothers influence in their shows. 

I'd Like to Be a Train

Mick Kinney &  the Hickhoppers

Mick Kinney cut his musical teeth on a wind-up Victrola and a stack of 10" shellac records his father found somewhere for him. He still lives in this world, as he brings his music to the world from Georgia, where he settled some years ago. An article in Georgiamusic puts it this way, "For Mick Kinney, the past is present. “I’m totally happy with representing a time and place that maybe never existed. I try to be a time machine, a way to take people away from now. If you haven’t heard it, it’s new,” he smiles as he sings part of an obscure ditty from decades ago. “It’s all 20th century mood music.” Sounds just right to me. 

Mick Kinney & the Hickhoppers - Busking

Chris Jones & the Night Drivers

Chris Jones, as the host of Sirius/xm radio's True Grass segment celebrating tradtional bluegrass music with special emphasis from Bill Monroe to about twenty years ago, could easily be characterized as a traditional musician leading a traditional band. Not so! Chris Jones & the Night Drivers is as diverse as its membership, coming from a variety of musical worlds and contributing in equal parts. Gena Clewes, replacing Ned Luberecki on banjo, has added her own distinctive quality to this already fine band. Look for songs written by each of the members as well as an interesting selection beyond that.

Bend in the Road

Seldom Scene

With no members of the original Seldom Scene, founded in 1972, remaining, the familiar sound persists, yet continues to grow and develop as time passes and personnel changes. The remarkable consistency along with the slow, but steady, evolution of their music welcomes new members. Fans, each of whom considers the version current when they first heard The Scene, to be "their Scene." With the addition of Ron Stewart, winner of IBMA awards on both banjo and fiddle, a new and interesting ingredient has been added, without ever doing an injustice to what has come before. The Seldom Scene, by carefully and lovingly preserving its heritage while continuing to grow will never grow old. 

Pan American

Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver

Hall of Famer Doyle Lawson brings his longtime band, nominated this year for IBMA Entertainer of the Year, to close another year of the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival. It's rare that a festival ending in the afternoon finishes with such an important and long-lasting band. Through over fifty years in the business, Lawson has played in and fronted major bands, often different in emphasis and tone, but all popular and important - Jimmy Martin, J.D. Crowe & the New South, the Country Gentlemen, and now his own band, Quicksilver, for the past thirty-seven years. Through almost countess changes in personnel, Doyle's band is often referred to as the Doyle Lawson school of bluegrass for the number of finely trained musicians who have graduated from his tutelage to service in other bands or fronting their own. Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver is a fitting band to end this wonderful three day event. 
Driving It Home

Additional Activities & Services

The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival has one of the most comprehensive and well written web sites of any festival we attend. It also has plenty of space to make these activities available - under cover if need by.  I'll provide brief descriptions with links to allow you to check out the musical and entertainment alternatives available provided by the Festival. Follow this Link for the festival music schedule as well as further information about each of the other opportunities. 

Magician Chris Capehart

Other Activites: The Children's Stage presents a two repeating shows on both Friday and Sunday. Featuring a magic show presented by the very able Chris Capehart on Saturday, there are also two folksingers specializing in youth shows, and a story teller. Delaware Valley veteran Heidi Olsen presents a Wernick Style Jam Class (extra charge) on Friday and Saturday and Sunday mornings. Contact her directly for further information. Because many novice pickers are uncomfortable walking up to an existing jam and joining in, Jam Central Station was established. Located in one of the barns, a slow jam is a welcoming place for many people to jam, held not during the Wernick classes. (Note: Pete Wernick will be on campus on Friday. Will he show up at the Jam Class?) A Clogging (a form of  Appalachian folk mountain dancing) Workshop will be presented by FiddleKicks on Friday and Saturday afternoons.

Vendors Building

Vendors offering a large variety of instruments and musically related gear, recordings and books, clothing, and crafts are conveniently located in a spacious, covered building for those wishing to take a break from the music or take home something to remember the festival by. Custom made Festival t-shirts are for sale just to the left of the Main Stage. Be sure to take home a beautifully designed memory of this festival. Many people purchase one each year they come to the festival an enjoy displaying the oldest ones they have as they walk the grounds. 


Festival Food is plentiful and varied. Fair food vendors set up close to the main stage offering ice cream, popcorn and other fair favorites. Some smaller vendors often show up to sell home-made goodies. The major vendor, in a permanent kitchen/dining building in the center of the campus only a few steps from the main stage is Lapp's Dutch Market Catering, offering full meals and extensive snacks at reasonable prices. Choices include pulled port barbecue, kielbasa and sauerkraut, and some of the best ribs I've ever tasted. Lapp's is your go-to spot for food. Hint: Despite its generous size, Lapp's can get crowded during supper break. Try to schedule your eating away from the break to encounter shorter lines and faster service.  

The Details

Tickets are sold at a sometimes bewildering range of prices. The period to purchase "Earliest Bird" tickets has ended, but you will be able to buy "Earlier Bird Tickets until August 13 an the Early Bird Tickets until Monday, August 27. The Gate opens on Wednesday, August 29, 2018. You can purchase tickets in advance by printing out this form, filling it in and mailing it, or online from Brown Paper Tickets (the fair trade ticketing company, according to them).


Camping at Delaware Valley is free with a weekend ticket, but there are a few electric hookups (operated by the fairgrounds staff, who will collect the fee at your site) are available. Early arrival, that means Wednesday, are suggested for those wishing to obtain the widest remaining choice of camping locations. Remember that the festival volunteers, who have been hard at work since Monday will have already taken many of the choice sites. Because of the lack of shade and frequent high heat, the festival asks you to not bring pets to this event. You can find shaded camping around the perimeter of the spacious grounds. Many groups often camp together, creating compounds where they set up communal cooking/eating spaces and frequently hold regular jams. There are even a few covered spots in sheds attached to the exhibit buildings.

Custom Map

Located in Woodstown, NJ, just across the Delaware Memorial Bridge from Wilmington, DE, the Salem County Fairgrounds are within easy driving distance for millions of people living from New York to Washington, D.C. and westward in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and even Virginia. 

Place Your Location by Clickin on "More Options." When the Map comes up 
Place your current location in the Space by O and click
for a Custom Map of Your Route to Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival
You can print out the map and the directions of follow them on your GPS or Cel Phone

Festival director Carl Goldstein was approached by Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe in 1972 to help him and Bill Monroe establish a festival in the Delaware. Along with his friends and fellow Old Time enthusiasts Shel Sandler and the late Mike Hudak, they, along with the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music, agreed to work with Stanley and Monroe, establishing the festival. Read British writer Richard Thompson's 2014 article in Bluegrass Today for more background on Goldstein and the festival. 
Festival Director - Carl Goldstein

The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is the only festival we attend built around a theory and shape based on presenting bluegrass music as well as introducing fans to all the variety of musical influences which have made it the wondrous musical experience it remains, over seventy years after it emerged at the Grand Old Opry in December of 1946, when Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs first joined Bill Monroe & the Blue Grass Boys on the stage. 

If you've been a reader of my blog and columns, and we haven't met, please be sure to stop me to say hello and visit with Irene in the Merchandise Shed to say hello.  See you on Labor Day Weekend!

Irene at the Merch Table

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