Discovering Cecil


Organizers of major annual events always hope they can improve on the previous year's version. For the people running today's Fair Hill Country Music Festival in Cecil County, which concludes tomorrow, that should be easy.

Last summer, at a nightmarish inaugural festival, the Judds got upstaged by the mud. The "farewell tour" of this mother-daughter country music duo proved an immense draw, selling out 20,000 tickets weeks in advance. But buckets of rain fell the day before the performance and turned the earthen parking area at the fairgrounds into a quagmire. Traffic backed up for 12 miles along the narrow roads leading to the site; one Harford County family of five recounted how what would normally have been a 45-minute trip for them devolved into a five-hour "drive from hell."

So it comes as no surprise that the organizers of this year's festival have been holding their breath over the weather forecast. Tickets haven't sold as briskly as they did last summer and the price is twice as high -- $22 a person -- but the line-up on stage is packed with country music headliners: Dwight Yokum, Tanya Tucker, Patty Loveless, Clint Black, Mary-Chapin Carpenter, among them.

County and state tourism boosters hope the festival heightens awareness and interest in Cecil County, often a forgotten corner of Maryland near the mouth of Chesapeake Bay. As illustrated in a congressional redistricting dispute last winter, Marylanders aren't sure whether Cecil belongs to the mass of humanity on the Western Shore or the isolationists on the Eastern Shore. It could as well belong to Delaware, with so many of its inhabitants working and shopping in that border state -- or Pennsylvania just to the north.

It would be nice if the Fair Hill event led to further interest in Cecil, which has a bounty of worthwhile attractions for a county its size -- the artsy Chesapeake City on the C&D; Canal; the historic Plumpton Park Zoo; the Perryville shopping outlets; fishing on the Susquehanna Flats. Actually, Cecil County has done some of the most clever marketing of any jurisdiction in East Coast travel magazines, but to most Marylanders, the place remains a mystery.

People shouldn't wait for a rainy day to visit Cecil, however.

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