A Portrait of Delfest 2023 {Review}

Jun 8, 2023

Words by Carly Shields.  Photography by Nick Price.

Delfest (May 25 – 28, 2023) is an annual music festival held in Cumberland, MD at the Allegany County Fairgrounds.  This family-friendly event was created by Del McCoury and the McCoury family to showcase the best in bluegrass, folk, Americana and more.  

 

A Portrait of Delfest 2023

by Carly Shields

Visualize this with me, if you will. You have just arrived back home after a long weekend in the hills of Western Maryland. The weather was stunningly perfect, even with the chill at night, so you’re not too sunbeat. The festival stages were close enough together, the camping not too spread out, so your legs are not too tired today.

You can still feel the music buzzing in your ears, so you need a silent activity. Some way to process the beauty of the days behind you. You decide to paint a portrait of Delfest 2023. 

 

At first you pick up one big panel of canvas and set it up on the easel, rearranging your stool in the perfect spot for your big picture vantage point. You look over your clean brushes, all different sizes and textures, thicknesses and elegances. You scan over your paint colors, and immediately recall the varying greens of the trees, the stripes in the rocks, the images of food and beers and crystals and dresses.

Your mind flashes over the outfits- the multi-color everything, the shiny, the whacky, the costumes. You see in your mind’s eye the way the stage lights played off the backdrop of earth. 

 

Looking at the empty canvas, your brain races to try and comprehend how you will possibly capture such an experience. You decide then and there to paint four canvases instead, one for each day of the event, to create one larger painting once complete.

Delfest 2023 Stage Shot

Painting the Delfest Landscape

After setting up the four panels side by side, you squeeze out some different shades of green and begin the outline of the grand setting of Delfest – a giant, smooth wave of earth across all four panels, brushing little trees on the side to create the rolling Allegheny hills, leaves of evergreen and spring green, tones of healthy nature and thriving woods.

About halfway up the third panel, the trees stop and you switch to greys, brushing lengthwise back and forth to create the layers of exposed rock. Soon, you have the face of what some have come to call Del Mountain, and what all Deltopians have come to know as a home. 

Just above center, you outline in blue the curvy, flowing Potomac River, a constant theme through song selections and morning routines at Delfest. You blend streaks of darker blues and a little greens, even a few whites and darker greys to create the perfect display of moving water.

You sit back and recall the first time you took in that view of the mountains and the river, as breathtaking as it has been year after year since. 

Delfest 2023 Hulahoopers

Setting the Stages

You decide the stages need to go in next. In the middle of the second panel you paint the main stage, a black outline facing away from your imagined viewpoint. About a quarter of the way up on the third panel, you outline the second stage, facing you, and on the fourth panel, a long white box, the Music Hall, facing you but to the right a bit.

Not more than a quarter way up you stroke in a rocky, sandy brown for the walking path starting from where the campgrounds will be, past the main stage, behind the second stage, and around to the hall.

Starting on the first panel, you begin to paint the camping areas, recalling the vibrant energy of walking amongst the campsites, meeting new people, and hearing strangers pick acoustic instruments. You paint a few abstract trees, the vague replication of the baseball fields, little imperfect triangles for the tents scattered throughout, flickers of yellow and orange flames as the campfires. 

You move on to the second panel, to work on the details of the main stage area: the wristband checkpoint, the fencing around the racetrack, the soundboard tent in the middle and the vending tents around the outer rim, the grass of the infield and of so many musical memories.

Starting at the middle outer edge of the second panel and taking over most of the middle of the third, you form an old, white building that holds memories of ten Delfest’s passed.

Starkly underused this year due to a most welcome lack of rain, you realize you made no memories in the Grandstand this year – no singing with strangers, no scootching past wet people for a spot, no borrowing hammocks or resting legs on the backs of the stands- and vow to spend a set with that grand view next year. 

Delfest 2023 Sierra Farrell

The Rainbow Colors of the Musical Talent

Around the second stage on the third panel, you cover the rest of that bottom half with the lush grass where you spent so much time with the up-and-coming bands that played the stage.

After you finish the grass, you think it feels lonely without all the people, so you do a controlled splatter of white and grey on top of the grassy lawn for all the people who enjoyed it. New concept unlocked, you think; splatter and dots.

Since you’re here, on the second stage you place a shiny black dot for the classy Jason Carter; a vibrant orange dot for Sierra Ferrell; a green dot for the organic Handmade Moments; a lovely lavender for the Price Sisters; an electric blue for Sicard Hollow; a traditional red for the Gibson Brothers.

You take a step back and reflect on how much better it feels with people – how much better life can be when surrounded by good, friendly people, and good music to boot. 

 

You move on to the fourth canvas, to the Music Hall, and feel the urge to show the colorful lights seeping from the barn, to somehow paint the energy of the late nights spent on this side of Delfest.

You start first at the far edge of the panel, painting the grassy hill where people took reprieve from the nonstop midnight energy, told jokes, passed joints, made friends, maybe fell in love. A quick splatter gives the illusion of many little happy heads scattered about.

You paint long cones of red and yellow and blue and purple extending out from the face of the hall over the hill. On top of the cones, zigzags of energy for the bands of Delfest after dark- a bright and weird green for Keller Williams, a rich yellow for the Infamous Stringdusters, complimented by a deep orange for Kitchen Dwellers; a lustful bright red for the California Honeydrops with a supporting hopeful cyan for Cris Jacobs Band

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong Delfest 2023

The Details Blend in the Final Touches

You then decide for this to be really effective, it’ll have to be dark in the sky. Without thinking much about it, you start with darkness on the top of the canvas. Yellow splatters for the stars, you think.

But it’s daytime on the first two panels, so before you finish the night sky, you decide to start with the morning back all the way left.

A sun rises at the top of the first canvas, filling the remaining upper white with bright yellow; a bluebird sky appears at the top of the second panel, with a few wispy clouds dancing delicately, the angels of Deltopian’s gone; oranges and reds turn to blues in the sunset of the third panel, and finally the last of the light-touched colors fills in at the top of the fourth panel where the night left off. 

You step back and look at this suddenly very full rendering of the weekend behind. You smile as you remember all the little moments that made it so special and decide to add those in.

A few balloons in the foreground of the second panel, for all the kids and families that come to enjoy the safety and security of Delfest.

A flag for funnel cake in the third panel, the one with the drizzle of chocolate that saved your night on Thursday.

A few little circles in the river for the tubers and floaters, something you’ve always said you’d do- haven’t yet, but will next year for sure, you think.

Some little backward L’s in the area in front of the stage, for the chairs and shade areas that filled in the back-half of the concert grounds.

A few stars in the water for the magic made by the river with the late-night pickers.

A tiny, sneaking dancing bear in the campgrounds, for all the Grateful Dead tributes.

Grey streaks of wear and tear on the aging Grandstand that has seen such wonderful moments. 

Delfest 2023 Smiling Faces Family

A Time To Reflect on Delfest

Time for a tea break before the final steps. As you wait for the water to boil, you ruminate on your Delfest experiences over the years.

Mostly rain-filled weekends gave way to sun in 2023; party-filled nights made room for toddler-filled memories. Campsites once overflowing with REI gear and full coolers running 6 or 7 tents deep have evolved into just a couple childless tents with only the bare necessities.

It was fun, of course. DelFest is always filled with fun and joy, warmth and happiness, music both new and intensely familiar; but as any Deltopian grows, so too do the experiences, and yet DelFest remains a treasure no matter what iteration you arrive in. 

You return to your painting, soothing chamomile in hand, blowing softly on the steaming top of your mug. You smile at the sight, a charming vision of your shared experience, a vibrating replication of the magic in a few brushstrokes.

The main stage remains empty, and you think for only one small second about the lack of Del sit-ins this year, normally a staple at many of the sets throughout the weekend.

To perk up, you throw a jazzy yellow spark at the front of the stage for Joe Craven, the shimmering, brilliant MC who introduces bands in delightful, verbose ways they will never be blessed with again.

A turtle and a pigeon at each of front corners for the Thursday headliners, Tramples by Turtles and Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. A curly purple loop-de-loop for Lindsay Lou; a sandy tan feathered ray for Rising Appalachia, a sparkly red splash for St. Paul & the Broken Bones, a blue fringe for Molly Tuttle, a collection of orange stars for Sam Bush.

A splatter of white and grey for the crowd.

Sam Bush Delfest 2023

Del McCoury: The Heart and Soul of Delfest

Another step back.

All these little dots on each of these panels; the colorful dots on stages and the devoted dots of the campers; all loyal supporters and spreaders of Del McCoury and his impact on bluegrass.

All tiny spirits who thrive in connection with nature, with music, and with each other.

Finally, the finishing touch, the reason for the dots and the connection and the music and the festival – above everything painted on the main stage, dead center of the second panel, a big swoop of silver for Del McCoury

Del McCoury Delfest 2023

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