OPINION: Go to DelVal

This week the International Bluegrass Music Association announced that the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival (or DelVal, as it is affectionately known among its devotees) has been nominated for IBMA’s Bluegrass Event of the Year. Seems like word is spreading about this gem of a music festival. Since the secret’s already out, I’ll hop on the proverbial bandwagon and say it: you should go to DelVal.

Sure, there are hundreds of music festivals in America every year, leading Paste Magazine’s Eric Danton to wonder recently, “Have We Reached Peak Festival?” But look, DelVal is one of the originals. It’s been around for almost 50 years, and was founded by none other than Bill Monroe and Dr. Ralph Stanley. (And you thought Lollapalooza was old school!) In the past half century, just about everybody has played there. Go ahead: think of a trad bluegrass band. Bet you they’ve played DelVal.

History aside, when you consider that for a hundred bucks* you can camp for four nights, listen to three days’ worth of top-tier bluegrass bands, and, most importantly, jam until sunrise with old and new friends alike, it’s a pretty tough deal to beat.

* Rate goes up on August 30. You can buy advance tickets at delawarevalleybluegrass.org.

It’s even close enough to Philly that you could pop back home for essentials. Although, really, you shouldn’t have to, because (here’s the best part): DelVal has real bathrooms.

The festival grounds are surrounded by working farmland.

This will be my third year attending DelVal, and I can say this year’s lineup looks to be hands down the best I’ve seen so far, with the likes of Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Claire Lynch, Compton and Newberry, and so many more. The GRAMMY Award winning Steep Canyon Rangers headline the Friday night lineup.

But even with that stellar lineup, the thing I’m looking forward to most is setting up camp, cracking open the cooler, picking up my Martin and playing until the callouses fall off my left hand. DelVal is simply one of the best jam parties of the year, where you can play with people of all ages and abilities. There are even those scary-good jams that, if you’re like me, make you want to quietly put your guitar back in its case and just enjoy listening.

A few Philly pickers having a campsite jam at DelVal 2015.

Maybe music festivals are so abundant these days because people long for the shared experience of music in an age when music tends to be primarily experienced between a pair of white earbuds. If you’re a fan of festivals, you owe it to yourself to experience the format that started it all: a real, honest-to-goodness bluegrass festival like the one happening in our backyard next weekend.

DelVal is produced by The Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music. Tickets and more information available at delawarevalleybluegrass.org.

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