Darrington Bluegrass festival organizers hopeful for best

DARRINGTON — Though they’re hoping for a record-breaking turnout, the Bluegrass &Country Music Makers Association doesn’t plan to do anything different with its signature event this weekend in Darrington.

For the 38th annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival — a celebration flavored with banjos, fiddles and catchy vocal harmonies — consistency is key.

“We really don’t know what to expect,” said Diana Morgan, one of the event organizers. “We’re just playing it by ear.”

The bluegrass festival is one of four events in the Stillaguamish Valley being highlighted by the state this summer.

The others are the Timberbowl Rodeo, Arlington Fly-In and Summer Meltdown in Darrington.

The state Department of Commerce directed $150,000 toward marketing local festivals and businesses, hoping to kickstart economic recovery after the March 22 Oso mudslide claimed 43 lives and blocked Highway 530 between Darrington and Arlington.

The highway has reopened and state and local leaders are urging people to attend the Stillaguamish Valley’s summer events and support local businesses.

This year, bluegrass festival organizers have the help of the state-funded advertising campaign, revamped rodeo grounds and a freshly cleaned and weed-whacked Darrington Bluegrass Music Park.

There’s room for thousands of people to camp out and watch shows at the 40-acre Bluegrass Music Park, Morgan said. If needed, the festival could spill over into the rodeo grounds next door.

“We hope we have to do that,” she said. “That would be great.”

The festival usually draws up to 7,000 people when the weather is as good as the music, Morgan said. She hopes to see the bleachers filled up and the grass in front of the stage covered with bluegrass fans, which would require at least 8,000 people.

Camping started last weekend, and hundreds of musicians are already at the park. The nonprofit Bluegrass &Country Music Makers Association purchased the acreage off Highway 530 in 1986, having outgrown the rodeo grounds next door, Morgan said.

Paul Queary, a spokesman for the state’s Visit Stilly Valley campaign, said the bluegrass festival doesn’t need to change to be extra successful this year.

“In some ways, its charm is in its permanence,” he said.

The Darrington Horse Owners Association, which owns the rodeo grounds, received $30,000 from the state and Coastal Community Bank to repair and clean the grounds before the annual Timberbowl Rodeo in June. The music park hasn’t received the same level of attention, Morgan said.

Even so, “it’s getting pretty full of RVs and tents and campers right now,” Morgan said Thursday. “It’s great for camping and has a beautiful view of Whitehorse Mountain.”

When the camping started last weekend, so did all-night bluegrass jam sessions, Morgan said.

The festival’s stage shows are scheduled for today, Saturday and Sunday. Bands are lined up to perform from 10 a.m. until 10:30 p.m. Saturday, the festival’s busiest day, Morgan said.

This year’s lineup consists of 11 regional bands and three headlining acts from across the country: Joe Mullins &the Radio Ramblers; Audie Blaylock and Redline; and Lorraine Jordan &Carolina Road.

Camping and seating are first-come, first-served, Morgan said. Spots are still open for people to camp out this weekend. The fee is $35, for a day or a week. There are no electricity or water hookups at campsites. Water and restrooms are available nearby.

Dogs can be on leashes at campsites, but are not allowed at the concerts. Alcohol is prohibited in the concert area.

“We want to keep it family-friendly,” Morgan said.

Eleven volunteer board members put together the festival each year. Morgan has been involved since 1993.

“Our big draw is our music and our atmosphere,” she said. “We have a great atmosphere. People who come to the festival will come back.”

Kari Bray: 425-339-3439; kbray@heraldnet.com.

Tickets

Tickets are $20 per person today and Sunday and $25 per person Saturday. Children 12 years old or younger get in free.

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