Delaware Junction’s Pires proud of successful launch

HARRINGTON — Alex Pires smiled inside and out, and why not?

After 18 months partnering with a host of entities to bring a large scale country music festival to Delaware, the opening night of Delaware Junction went off well when performers finally took the stage.

He stood on the main stage with his camera, looking out at a vast crowd of “15,000 or whatever it was” at the Delaware State Fairgrounds site on Friday night, and harkened back to far earlier days.

After decades spent as a lawyer, restaurateur, bar owner, banker, real estate owner, law professor, and U.S. Senate candidate, the Dewey Beach entrepreneur added another successful pursuit to his life story — big time music festival backer.

“My first show when I was 15 or 16 … I paid $120 for the band,” he said.

“Now, so many years later, to look out and see such a crowd, I said to myself ‘Well, I finally got a big show.’

“I was proud of myself for that, to be honest.”

Saturday promised more of the same groove and fun, and the steamy weather didn’t dissuade attendees from dealing with heat and humidity while following the afternoon lineup.

The big show — headliner Toby Keith — waited for the final act of the night.

Struck by the youthful energy of the crowd, Mr. Pires called opening night Friday “a gigantic singalong.” He heard thousands of voices following along with clearly well-known performers Cole Swindell and Jason Aldean.

“I thought it was a young crowd that seemed to know every word of every song that Cole Swindell and Jason Aldean were doing,” Mr. Pires said. “It was kind of like a ‘Welcome to Delaware’ singalong. I was surprised that people accepted it so well.”

More of the same is expected tonight when Florida Georgia Line closes the three-day outdoor camping and music festival with a 9:20 show.

Additionally, Mr. Pires said he was enthused that Delaware Junction would promote Delaware, bring festival-related jobs and an economic impact, and allow out of staters get a taste of scrapple, Jimmy’s Grille chicken, Rusty Rudder Restaurant seafood and other First State treats.

The original goal for year one was “to try to have 10 to 15,000 really happy people,” Mr. Pires said. The second and third years could build to as many as 25,000, but no larger.

Mr. Pires, who had orchestrated a lot of “modest festivals” in the Dewey Beach area, traveled the country for two years surveying other music festivals to get a feel for the crowds, their response and experiences.

After attending the Bonaroo Music and Arts Festival, the breadth of up to 80,000 attendees “just did not feel quite right,” Mr. Pires said.

The Faster Horses Country Music Festival drew 12,000 to 15,000 in its second year, and Mr. Pires said he “really liked it. It had a very personal atmosphere, you could get right up next to the stages.”

Thus, Delaware Junction’s future forecast may have a footprint of 25,000 fans maximum, maybe less. There’s no plans to approximate the larger Stagecoach country music festival in California, Mr. Pires said.

“In the country music festivals I’ve seen, 15-to-20,000 was perfect,” he said. “You could camp, go up to the stage and see very famous people from a very close view.”

That was the case Saturday, as dozens crowded near the Main Stage as Joey Hyde cranked it up at 3:30 p.m., with more folks lounging in chairs nearby and positioned for a great view of the stage.

And where do Mr. Pires’ musical tastes fall?

“I like it all,” he said, noting that his Sirius radio buttons are programmed for garage rock, country, rock, hip-hop, 1940s channels, among others.

“I can’t pick a music that I don’t like,” he said.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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