30,000 jam Rocky Gap park for full weekend of bluegrass


CUMBERLAND -- More than 30,000 people converged on Rocky Gap State Park this weekend and turned this usually quiet town in the heart of Western Maryland into one, big music hoedown.

Rocky Gap Music Festival IV, which began Friday and concludes tonight with a concert by country superstar group Alabama, once again jammed hotel rooms from here to Frederick, filled temporary parking lots -- some of them muddy from Friday's rain -- and kept park officials busy.

With the exception of a midafternoon drug arrest yesterday, park officials reported few disturbances in the record crowds that came to listen to some of the biggest stars in the country and bluegrass world.

Music lovers began arriving at the 3,200-acre state park in the pre-dawn hours of Friday. Some 7,000 of them crowded onto 700 campsites that were sold out a year ago. The rest arrived by day in thousands of cars, trucks and buses.

Officials reported massive traffic jams along Interstate 68 heading into Cumberland yesterday and Friday.

Once they found a place to park -- an arduous task at best -- the visitors rushed to the gigantic stage that has gone up every year since 1989 for three of the biggest days in country music.

"I could hear them coming," said William Cihler, Rocky Gap State Park's manager. "It sounded like a stampede, people with lawn chairs and coolers in hand rushing to stake out their territory."

Among those rushing to claim a rare patch of open grass in front of the stage was a man who parked his pickup, grabbed a long metal pole holding 30 lawn chairs and --ed for the stage.

Mr. Cihler watched as he fell and cut himself.

"Nothing catches us by surprise anymore," the park manager said.

While operating in normal times with a crew of about seven, Rocky Gap gears up for the festival with 92 park employees. They even set up a physician-staffed first-aid stand to take care of all but the most serious of injuries.

In a picture-perfect day, with temperatures in the 70s, entertainers began performing at 11 a.m.. Families split off from campsites to swim, take a boat ride or just sit back and take in the sights and sounds on the huge concert stage.

One group of retirees who have been attending the event for the past three years included Monty Bikerton of Brookville, Jan and Jay Stephenson of Annapolis and Loyd and Pat Herring of Stewart, Fla. They camped at Hidden Springs Campground in Pennsylvania and arrived at Rocky Gap by 7 a.m. each day.

Like many others, the group spent the day playing cards, grilling hamburgers and sipping beer with the concert stage in the background.

Rocky Gap Country Bluegrass Festival was started in 1989 with a $50,000 state grant. The event, which included Conway Twitty, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, Vince Gill, Asleep at the Wheel and Restless Heart this year, is expected to make a profit of more than $150,000 for Rocky Gap Festival Foundation.

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