Cumberland Times-News

Local News

May 24, 2013

It’s high time for DelFest to fire up local economy

CUMBERLAND — For the time being, I’m going to drop being a reporter covering DelFest for a moment and approach the community I grew up in and currently reside in from an opportunity perspective that shoots from the heart.

It’s no secret the population and jobs have dwindled in Allegany County the past 30-plus years and we’ve had a difficult time getting new business, which makes economic development grueling.

What’s most important about DelFest is that it represents way more than music for this community.

After spending quite a bit of time with head producers, management companies, both paid and volunteer staff, food vendors, ticket people, equipment companies, musicians, the media, the DelFest Foundation, the fairgrounds office all the way down to Del McCoury himself, they all believe this festival is going to bring about even greater opportunities for Allegany County as it continues to grow by leaps and bounds.

How might it, you ask?

Let’s just say the local, state and national bigwigs are here looking over this community as you read this.

Because DelFest, as several national media outlets and musicians have attested to this week, is on the verge of potentially becoming one of the top bluegrass festivals in the country and thus becoming the “Telluride Bluegrass Festival of the East.”

Everyone and their mother wants to play and partner with Del McCoury and this, as his son Ronnie puts it, is his dad’s namesake.

A situation has been created where national recording artists are now emailing DelFest producers in advance as to whether they will be invited to the festival next May.

In the music world this translates to this — if you are a true artist, you must play DelFest.

This includes the likes of stars such as Robert Plant, former lead singer from rock band Led Zeppelin, who according to one of the DelFest creators, Stan Strickland, “Would have been here this year had he not been on the West Coast filling prior obligations.”

Strickland also said, “Robert Plant loves Del McCoury and sneaks backstage to hang out when Del is performing out west.”

That is the kind of world talent this festival is beginning to attract. The word is out.

And with that type of notoriety comes television market decision makers, radio show producers, economic investors and business owners with gobs of financial power who have already stated that the price for a primo house on Washington Street and an office in Downtown Cumberland is cheaper than they could have ever imagined.

In fact, there are many economic development ideas being passed around from establishing a business competition for the right to free office space downtown to extending a bike trail from Canal Place through the Carpendale tunnel to the fairgrounds.

Here it is Memorial Day weekend and Rocky Gap is having the grand opening of their long-awaited casino at the same time DelFest is taking place.

Yet, Rocky Gap is one of the premier sponsors of DelFest.

When was the last time this town has seen those types of out-of-town monster investors building a partnership here?

As reported in my previous articles this week, there are people I’m interviewing from Australia, Alaska, Colorado, etc., who are at DelFest for the entire week.

Ticket officials have been quick to note that there are paying customers here from more than 40 states and it’s easy to validate by perusing the jammed fairgrounds parking lots and reading the license plates.

And they all talk about getting a hot dog at Coney Island or hitting up places like Dunham’s Sporting Goods because Walmart is sold out of certain items.

This festival goes way beyond the fact that hotels are booked solid or that beverage centers, grocery stores and convenience stores are moving items off the shelves in mass.

When the head of the Maryland Economic Development Committee comes here to see what exactly is going on at DelFest you know it’s huge. You think they would like the “Telluride Festival of the East,” to be in their state? Del yeah.

The local politics are also beginning to take shape with alliances being formed from the city/county commissioners to the Baltimore Sun to the governor’s office in Annapolis.

And Sheriff Craig Robertson with his Allegany County Sheriff’s Office has been a huge benefit assisting the safety needs of the festival. Everyone seems to be climbing on board.

As DelFest co-founders Strickland and Roy Carter (who are giant entrepreneurs in their own right) put it, Allegany County is so close, literally one person away from breaking something really big economically.

I personally believe it because I have seen it with my own eyes.

Not counting the local attendance, we have more than 10,000 people coming from all over the world to Cumberland.

If you have never been to the festival because you think you don’t like bluegrass music that is all well and good, but it should be mentioned that more than half the music being played here represents music of all genres.

For the sake of growing as a community, it’s imperative we embrace this endeavor for now and down the road.

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.

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