Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival to stir up Sussex swamp

The third annual Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival, set for May 19, will include five regional and nationally known bluegrass bands, food trucks, local beer and wines, craft vendors, a native plant sale, and free bus tours through Delaware Wild Lands’ Great Cypress Swamp in Frankford. (Submitted photo)

FRANKFORD — For the third year, the Delaware Wild Lands-hosted Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival will introduce music and nature lovers to local bluegrass artists and Delaware’s massive 10,600-acre Great Cypress Swamp.

“A lot of people on Delmarva don’t even realize that we have a Great Cypress Swamp because that’s something usually

Baldcypress Bluegrass Festival
May 19 from noon to 6 p.m.
Roman Fisher Farm at the Great Cypress Swamp on 24558 Cypress Road in Frankford
Purchase tickets online at Adults $35, Teens from 13 to 17 $10 and kids under 12 are free.
Event is rain or shine. Guests advised to bring a folding chair.
Artists include:
• Johnny Staats & the Delivery Boys
• New & Spare Fools
• Acoustic Turnpike
• Flatland Drive
• Mountain Ride

associated with states farther south like Virginia and the Carolinas,” said Delaware Wild Lands spokeswoman Wendy Scott.

“But we have an amazing cypress swamp. It’s actually the farthest northern type of its particular habitat. This music festival has really helped us raise awareness about the swamp and raise funds for various conservation projects throughout the state.”

Delaware Wild Lands is a nonprofit organization that owns and manages more than 21,000 acres of conservation land throughout the state. Founded in 1961, it is the single largest non-governmental land owner in the state.

Their signature music festival, set this year for May 19, started in 2016 with five bands and about 200 attendees.

“We had a first great year, despite having about six inches of rain the day before,” said Ms. Scott. “The following year we had about 300 people show up, but this year tickets are well ahead and we’re expecting great weather and more than 400 people.”

The festival has even started to take on a reputation all its own among regional musicians, Ms. Scott added.

“We’re bringing back fan favorites this year like Flatland Drive who’s played the festival every year,” she said. “But we’re starting to get to the point where musical acts are actually reaching out to us. After last year’s festival, a great band from Pennsylvania, Mountain Ride, asked if they could play for us. We checked them out and they’re great, so they’re one of our five bands playing this year as well. Our headliner this year is Johnny Staats & the Delivery Boys from West Virginia. Johnny is a nationally recognized world-class mandolin, guitar and fiddle player. He’s won world championships for both his mandolin and guitar playing.”

This year’s headliner is Johnny Staats & the Delivery Boys from West Virginia. Mr. Staats is a world-class mandolin, guitar and fiddle player. He and his band have performed multiple times on NPR’s nationally broadcast show, “Mountain Stage” and at the Grand Ole Opry. (Submitted photo)

The bluegrass music is only one of the attractions at the festival though. Food, local beer and wine, craft vendors, a native plant sale and bus tours of the swamp are also on the bill.

Food trucks like Truck It from Georgetown, The Blue Scoop from Selbyville and Dixie’s Down Home Cooking from Dover will be providing selections. For drinks, Rising Rooster Coffee from Rehoboth Beach, Dogfish Head Brewery and Nassau Valley Vineyards will also be in attendance.

The native plant sale hosted by How Sweet It Is, a garden center in Eden, Maryland, is new this year.

“Richard Davis, a nationally known horticulture expert, will be at the sale as well to answer plant questions,” Ms. Scott said. “Richard said that people should come with their toughest questions and he’ll give them free advice.”

Festival in nature

Musicians may be on stage next Saturday, but the swamp itself is really the star of the show. Ms. Scott said to better acquaint festivalgoers with the massive conservation area, a free bus will be looping through the swamp during the day.

“We’ll have staff aboard the bus as well to explain everything the riders are seeing, talk about the history of the swamp and describe what we’re working on,” she said.

The festival itself takes place at Roman Fisher Farm, a Delaware Wild Lands-owned farm at the foot of the cypress trees, at 24558 Cypress Road in Frankford.

“The big bandshell tent where we have the stage backs up to the swamp so while you’re listening to the music, you can actually look up into the treetops of these enormous bald cypress trees behind the stage,” said Ms. Scott.

The swamp wasn’t always as lush as it is now, said Ms. Scott.

Delaware Wild Lands has planted 198,000 trees in the area of the Great Cypress Swamp since 2011. Traditional uses continue on the land, including sustainable forestry, farming and hunting. A plethora of wildlife and birds are now thriving, including wild turkey,
red-headed woodpeckers, river otter, carpenter frogs, bald eagles, wood ducks, teal and several other species of waterfowl. (Submitted photo)

“When we first started purchasing land there 50 years ago, it had been thoroughly drained and logged out — it was pretty dusty,” she said. “We’re been restoring the water controls and letting the land rehydrate itself. Now have more than 300 acres of wetland forest in there that’s absolutely amazing.

“It’s a terrific bald eagle habitat. Last fall, I was visiting a field in the swamp with some of the wetlands nearby and saw them hunting. There were so many that I lost count after 30. The swamp is full of life.”

The Delaware Wild Lands organization has planted 198,000 trees at the swamp since 2011. Traditional uses continue on the land, including sustainable forestry, farming and hunting. They say this management approach has allowed them to reversing decades of degradation.

Wildlife and birds such as wild turkey, red-headed woodpeckers, river otter, carpenter frogs, bald eagles, wood ducks, teal, and several other species of waterfowl now call the place home.

The organization’s holdings continue to grow too. Ms. Scott noted that a Sussex County family recently donated 160 more acres adjacent to the swamp for preservation.

“We’re in the business of forever,” she said. “The land we buy or have donated is permanently protected. We put together long-term management plans, not just looking at five years in the future, but a hundred years out. We’re doing what we need to do now to make a difference for the future.”

For more information on the music festival or Delaware Wild Lands, visit

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