Thirty national recording artists are preparing to step into the Cumberland spotlight this weekend at the Allegany County Fairgrounds as DelFest rolls into town for its sixth annual musical festival.
The live shows commence Thursday evening and run through Sunday night with multiple musical acts performing daily from 10 a.m. to 3:30 the next morning on three different stages.
It’s hard to believe six years have rolled by so fast. While sitting in the fairgrounds multipurpose building just two days before the shindig gets under way, one can see not just Del McCoury, who the festival is named after, hard at work counting T-shirts that will be for sale, but many of his family members are by his side doing the same.
No question this is a family run operation — all the way down to the shirts on their back. And when you talk with the national recording artists big and small that come here, the first response is always that they are here because of Del and his family.
When asking Del how far has his festival has come since the first year and whether it met his expectations in terms of the number of people, he’s quick to answer. “Yes, it did grow more than I realized it could. I figured the first two years we would have to lose money before we could break even. But I think we broke even the first year.”
To which his wife Jean, who is standing just 15 feet away counting more T-shirts, retorts with a snap, “No, not the first year Del. It cost us money!” Then with that famous Del chuckle, he laughs back, “What, it cost us money?”
Del’s sons and daughters will be the first to admit momma runs the show. Well, Del still must be doing OK financially. After all, he did finally purchase that zero turn radius lawn mower he has been eyeballing for quite some time as his eldest son and mandolin player Ronnie puts it.
“It’s a Sears Roebuck and I still cut those three acres at my home in Tennessee,” Del said, with a bright smile. Seems likely that Del would fit right in with many of the proud lawn owners that exist right here in our own blue collar town. And he sure does. Call DelFest his own lawn and boy does he take pride in it. The McCoury’s have traveled the world playing their brand of bluegrass music. But DelFest they all say, is the big family vacation.
In regard to the growth of this music fest, Del admits the event had to go through a lot of stumbling blocks to get to this point. He is also quick to point out, “But the first year we came here (2008) we never wanted to leave. We knew we wanted to stay here.”
In crossing paths with Del’s daughter Rhonda, she makes an important point that not many around this community have come to understand. “You know Dad actually really loves this town. He knows this area has been going through hard times for quite a while and whether people want to believe it or not he really wants to see this town become a better place and he feels ... he can help this town with his festival.”
His two sons say the same thing. Just how much impact DelFest has on the community is still open for discussion. One aspect is certain ... DelFest is going to pack in the crowds this year.
Mira Patel, the owner of the Pit N Go convenience store and gas station that sits on the other side of U.S. Route 220 across from the fairgrounds, has been preparing for the occasion. Patel said she has more liquid refreshments than the building and its storage facility can hold and that they still will need to order more by Friday. Ice is an “on demand” situation. They run out, they call the ice man, he delivers. But to be safe, the Pepsi truck will just stay parked in the lot.
The most attended event in Allegany County every year is easily the annual high school football homecoming game played between the two city schools Allegany and Fort Hill, a rivalry that dates back to 1932. The largest crowd to ever witness that game was in 1994 when an estimated crowd of 14,000 fans were on hand. This writer believes that record will be toppled and maybe this weekend, making DelFest the most attended event in Cumberland’s history.
Y’all come on out and sit a spell, hear?
Todd Helmick is a former Fort Hill High School and Florida State University football player. He is the owner of the college football website NationalChamps.net and his weekly radio show can be heard on Baltimore FOX Sports 1370.