TANEYTOWN -- Audiences easily recognize Leroy Eyler, the leader of the Carroll County Ramblers. During every performance, he wears a hat. Often, he said, he has had to pull songs out of it.
"I can play most anything people ask me," he said. "I can go back in my memory and pull out songs they haven't heard in years."
His fans call him "the man of a million songs," said his wife, Dottie.
The Eylers, both 61, said bluegrass grows on people. They should know. They have been cultivating the musical genre through three generations of their family.
For 30 years, the couple and their children have been performing as the Carroll County Ramblers on radio, television and at festivals across the country.
"Even the grandchildren are getting interested," said Mr. Eyler.
Seven years ago, the Carroll County Ramblers decided to bring their music home and help the Kingsdale (Pa.) Volunteer Fire Company at the same time.
They organized the Kingsdale Bluegrass Music Festival. Since 1985, the event has grown in size to four days and 13 acts.
"Every year, the crowd just about doubles," said Mr. Eyler. "Last year, we played to about 1,200 people."
Jay Hiner, a Keymar resident and member of Pipe Creek Bluegrass, said he enjoys listening as much as he does playing at the event.
"It's a real thrill for us to play to crowds the size the festival draws," he said.
The Eylers said the music itself draws crowds, often from across the country. Last year, several Japanese tourists visited.
"It's the song of the land," said Mr. Eyler. "Most every song tells a story of the way people live, of their times and troubles."
"And, today, bluegrass is going in all different directions," said Mrs. Eyler. "It's adaptable and can be country or rock."
Bluegrass musicians use no electric instruments, relying on a "natural sound" that originated in the Appalachian Mountains, said Mr. Eyler, who calls the genre "native American."
"It's more acoustic and old-time, the way they played a long time ago," said Mr. Hiner.
The Eylers agreed that bluegrass has kept their family together.
Actually, music helped bring the family together, said Mrs. Eyler, a guitarist since she was 10.
"When Leroy and I first met, he said he fell in love with my guitar," she said. "I taught him how to play. Then, he taught himself the mandolin."
The festival, on the grounds of the fire company along State Highway 194, is an easy drive from their Taneytown home, said Mr. Eyler.
"I can practically spit from my house to Pennsylvania," he said.
The festival opens at 6 p.m. Thursday with a potluck supper. "No Leeway" starts the music at 7:30 p.m. Bluegrass sounds will fill the air from 4 p.m. to midnight Friday; from 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday; and beginning with Pipe Creek Bluegrass' special gospel hymns at 10 a.m., to 5:30 p.m. Sunday.
Patrons can buy daily tickets which range from $5 to $12, or pay $32 for admission to the entire festival.
All proceeds benefit the Kingsdale Volunteer Fire Company. Information: (410) 346-7306.