State's newest country music festival will bring The Judds to Cecil County

May 31, 1991|By Phyllis Brill | Phyllis Brill,Evening Sun Staff

IN A CONTINUING effort to promote Maryland tourism through country music, the state Department of Economic and Employment Development has announced the creation of still another music event to be held this summer. The Fair Hill Country/Bluegrass Music Festival is set for Aug. 10 in Cecil County with the Grammy Award-winning duo The Judds as the headline act.

Meanwhile, the Tangier Sound Country Bluegrass Festival, which drew an audience of 14,000 to the tiny town of Crisfield at the southern tip of Maryland's Eastern Shore last summer, has been canceled -- at least for this year.

Tony Bruce, a Crisfield attorney and treasurer of the festival foundation, said problems in confirming a suitable site in time to contract top talent led to the cancellation. But, he added, the festival will be back next year, hopefully as the first in the 1992 series of summer music festivals.

The Fair Hill event will be held on a 5,000-acre hillside owned and managed by the state Department of Natural Resources that is home to the area's steeplechase races. "It's an open area, surrounded by trees -- a lovely, natural area," says W. Edwin Cole Jr., Cecil County commissioner and member of the festival foundation's board. Fair Hill is in the extreme northeast corner of the state, about four miles north of I-95 on state Rt. 213.

Other performers on the bill include Ricky Van Shelton, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Shelby Lynn, The Dillards and the instrumental trio Russ Barenberg/Jerry Douglas/Edgar Meyer. The Judds' appearance will be their last in the area as a duo since Naomi Judd is planning to retire after this tour.

In what has become a successful, if somewhat rocky, tradition, the state will lend financial as well as organizational support through the Governor's Office of Art and Culture to the Fair Hill festival in its first year. In succeeding years, management of the event will convert to a non-profit foundation made up of local business and civic leaders, with financial support garnered from local sponsors.

The intention is to create an eventually self-sustaining event that will bring an economic boost annually to the local economy.

The tradition has worked well in Cumberland, where the Rocky Gap Festival at Rocky Gap State Park is now in its third year and is completely self-sufficient, says DEED deputy secretary Mike Lofton -- who was instrumental in planning the Western Maryland event as well as last year's Crisfield festival and this year's Cecil County addition.

A three-day event, Rocky Gap last year attracted more than 50,000 visitors and reportedly pumped about $4.35 million into the Western Maryland economy. This year's festival is scheduled for Aug. 2-4.

The state will contribute an $80,000 grant through DEED and another $80,000 through DNR for the Fair Hill event. As in previous efforts, the grants will be used to cover talent, promotion and site preparation.

Last year, the state contributed $100,000 to get the Crisfield event off the ground, in the hope of bringing economic help to a corner of the state plagued by plant closings and unemployment. And while the event was considered a success by all, organizers ran into a logistical snag in duplicating it this year.

Last year's festival was held on a waterfront tract of land owned by Mark Vogel, a developer and racetrack owner who recently filed for bankruptcy protection and whose holdings are now under supervision of the courts. By the time organizers learned their "seasoned" Hammock Point site would be unavailable for this year's July festival, it was too late to develop a suitable replacement site that would accommodate the top-name performers they were hoping to book, said Bruce.

Next year, he says, Crisfield's festival will be held Memorial Day weekend and will be the first in the three-festival run. "The emphasis in the state is to have a series of events that build on one another, and we want to be part of that," says Bruce. "We want to be first in line starting next year."

In Cecil County, organizers hope to take advantage of Fair Hill's proximity to Interstate 95 to draw crowds from Philadelphia, Baltimore, Wilmington and Washington, says Lofton. In addition, he says, the festival's being on the northeast corridor will make it more attractive to corporate sponsors, facilitating the local community's efforts in taking over financial responsibility next year.

Lofton said Rocky Gap's record of drawing 35,000 to 45,000 people to Western Maryland and Crisfield's attracting 14,000 to its out-of-the-way location last year are proof enough that the state can sustain three similar festivals a year. "I don't think we're anywhere near saturating the market," he says.

The Fair Hill Country/Bluegrass Festival will run from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Besides a full day of performances, there will be music workshops conducted by the performers, a crafts show, an invitational decoy exhibit and children's activities.

Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the gate. Call 1-800-677-JUDDS for details.

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