DARRINGTON — The Bluegrass Festival is an annual reunion for fans who attend every performance and musicians who jam on the old tunes back in the campgrounds surrounding the festival amphitheater.
This year it’s also a homecoming of a big kind for mandolinist and singer Nick Dumas, who grew up in Brier and has been involved in the bluegrass scene in Snohomish County since he was a kid.
The festival — where Dumas first performed in 2007 — is July 21 through 23 at the Darrington Bluegrass Music Park. Dumas, 27, is now a member of the nationally known Chicago-based band Special Consensus, which performs at 3:30 and 8 p.m. Saturday and again at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Special C, as Dumas calls his band, is one of the headliners at this year’s festival, along with Rhonda Vincent and her band, the Rage.
Also performing is Gold Heart, a charismatic trio of sisters from Virginia, along with other national, regional and local bands, including The Combinations with Darrington’s own Bertha Nations Whiteside, 87. Bertha, as everyone calls her, has been performing at the festival each year since its inception in the late 1970s.
“Bertha is still going strong,” said festival director Diana Morgan. “She performs with a lot of younger musicians and she runs circles around me. I have no idea where she gets her energy.”
Bertha just laughs.
“Yes, I am the oldest one in my band, and I’ll be playing this music as long as I can,” she said. “People can expect to hear us Friday night and Saturday morning playing songs like ‘Mountain Low,’ ‘Old Hometown’ and ‘Silver Dew on the Bluegrass.’”
Morgan is especially excited about having Rhonda Vincent — an eight-time winner of the International Bluegrass Music Association’s award for best female vocalist — in town again.
“She is the current queen of bluegrass (with a No. 1 tune with Daryle Singletary on the Billboard Bluegrass Albums Chart) and she is so personable and so willing to jam with everyone,” Morgan said. “She’s been here before and she is always a good draw for us.”
Vincent is special to Dumas, too. In 2007, he was at the festival performing with his mother, aunt and grandfather (The Three Generations band), and was backstage jamming with Vincent’s fiddle player.
“She heard me and then asked me to come onstage to play ‘Orange Blossom Special’ with her,” Dumas remembered. “And now here I am with Special Consensus and Rhonda is headlining again. It’s surreal.”
After learning to play fiddle, mandolin, guitar and banjo as well as sing lead and harmony vocals, Dumas became a founder of the bluegrass bands Northern Departure and North Country Bluegrass, with which he toured regionally and nationally.
In 2015 he was asked by Special Consensus founder Greg Cahill to join the band — one that Dumas had been following for years. He made his Special C recording debut on the 2016 Compass Records release “Long I Ride,” which received the 2016 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Instrumental Recorded Performance of the Year award for the tune “Fireball.”
“It was the coolest thing; a pinch-me moment,” Dumas said. “The Soggy Bottom Boys opened the awards show and ours was the first award given. I shook Allison Krauss’ hand.”
Dumas will be joined in Darrington by his family and his fiance, fiddle player Hana Rass, and her family.
“I proposed to Hana in front of Dublin Castle when Special C was on tour in Ireland, Scotland and England,” Dumas said. “It was great to have the rest of the band there. I look up to them and they are like brothers to me.”
Dumas can’t wait for Saturday.
“We are going to have a great time,” he said. “Darrington is one of my favorite bluegrass festivals in the entire world.”
If you go
The 41st annual Darrington Bluegrass Festival is July 21-23 at the Darrington Bluegrass Music Park, 42501 Highway 530, just west of Darrington. Information about tickets, the schedule and more is available at www.darringtonbluegrass.com or call 360-436-1006. Walk-in gate tickets are $30 Friday and Sunday, and $40 on Saturday. Children free with an adult.