Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival bringing music to the swamp

Notable musicians, food and craft beer on hand

Date Published: 
May 20, 2016

Even though the weather forecast for Saturday is for rain (at this point, is anyone surprised?), the planners of the Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival near Gumboro are hopeful that the day won’t be a washout.

The festival stage will be under a 40-by-60-foot tent, so dry seating will be available, according to Wendy Scott, marketing manager for Delaware Wild Lands, which is the beneficiary of funds being raised at the event. Picnic tables will be set up inside a barn for patrons to enjoy their food, which will be provided by food trucks on-site.

The lineup for the festival includes headliner Courtney Hartman — a Brooklyn-based Grammy-nominated soloist, as well as guitarist and vocalist for the all-female group Della Mae; and four other bands: Kindred Spirits, Saltwater String Band, Flatland Drive and a group formed just for the festival, called New & Spare Fools. That group features Mickey Justice and Todd Smith of Such Fools, Jon Simmons and Martin Wirtz of New & Used Bluegrass, and Wes Parks of No Spare Time.

The festival grounds will be the Roman Fisher Farm at the edge of the Great Cypress Swamp, the largest contiguous forest on the Delmarva Peninsula. Delaware Wild Lands owns and manages 11,000 acres of the Swamp, and 10,000 additional acres in Kent and New Castle counties.

The focus of the restoration efforts at the Great Cypress Swamp is “maintaining the traditional uses of the land,” Scott said. Land within the preservation area is still being actively farmed, and sustainable forestry efforts have been established. “We want it to be part of the local economy,” she said.

Delaware Wild Lands field ecologist Andrew Martin said much of the organization’s current efforts in the Great Cypress Swamp are concentrated on restoring wetlands. The wetlands areas of the swamp were depleted beginning in the 1920s.

At that point, Martin said, “Much of what was left of the swamp was being ditched out and drained.” A gridded ditch system was instituted throughout the swamp as a way to channel the water for farmers’ use. By the 1970s, the swamp was becoming more and more dry, and plans were begun to try to bring it back to its former state.

Today, a system of what are essentially eight dams has been constructed throughout the swamp, with boards that can be raised and lowered as needed, to control the flow of water in the swamp.

As technology improves, more and better tools are available to help Delaware Wild Lands manage the project. One such tool is a drone that Martin uses to quickly reach and examine areas of the swamp that it would take days to reach by other means, he said.

Tickets to the Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival include the opportunity to jump onto a guided bus tour looping through the 11,000-acre Great Cypress Swamp, Scott said. Tour guides will offer insight into the work of Delaware Wild Lands to restore forests, wetlands and wildlife habitat in the unique ecosystem. Local experts will be on hand to answer questions and explain more about the history of the swamp.

Delaware Wild Lands has planted more than 165,000 trees since 2011, improving what is considered one of the most important natural resources on the Delmarva Peninsula. Traditional uses continue on the land, including sustainable forestry, farming and hunting.

A plethora of wildlife and birds are now thriving in the Great Cypress Swamp, including: wild turkeys, redheaded woodpeckers, river otters, carpenter frogs, bald eagles, wood ducks, teals and several other species of waterfowl.

The festival will run from noon to 6 p.m. Tickets for adults cost $25 in advance or $35 at the gate. Admission for children ages 5-17 costs $10. Children under 5 are admitted free of charge. Tickets can be purchased online at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/baldcypress-bluegrass-festival-tickets-2449..., through Eventbrite.

Local craft beer will be sponsored by Crooked Hammock and Dogfish Head. Wine will be provided by Nassau Valley Vineyards. Food trucks will offer a menu provided by: Mr. Bar-B-Que, BK Catering and Vinnie’s Pizza Truck, and ice cream for dessert from Vanderwende Farm Creamery. Festival activities will include games, vendors and tours.

The address for the Roman Fisher Farm, where the festival will be held, is 24558 Cypress Road, Frankford. Shuttle parking will be available at the Gumboro Community Church on Route 54.

For more information on Delaware Wild Lands’ efforts to preserve the Great Cypress Swamp and other natural treasures in Delaware, visit the organization’s website at www.delawarewildlands.org, as well as their Instagram page, where field ecologist Andrew Martin shares images captured through the seasons and cycles of the swamp and other areas maintained by the organization.