Fearless country fans brave far-from-Fair Hill


FAIR HILL -- Judi Mackiewicz didn't plan on spending the weekend sitting in a lawn chair dressed in three large plastic garbage bags. But these are the things one does for love.

And she does love her country music: Dwight Yoakam, Clint Black and Garth Brooks top her list. So the young East Windsor, N.J., woman was in good company yesterday among thousands dressed in an assortment of foul-weather gear and sitting beneath an assortment of tarps in the rain, mist and mud of the second annual Fair Hill Country Music Festival.

"These people are die-hards, or they wouldn't be here," said Norman Hunter, a member of the Fair Hill Country Music Festival Foundation Board, the organizer of the event, which was part of a state-county effort to draw tourists to Cecil County.

It was hard to argue with him. One had to be serious about country music to show up in Fair Hill in this weather and after last year's festival, when poor planning of the site, access routes and parking led to hours-long traffic jams and a public relations fiasco. Oh yes, it also rained. And there was lots of mud.

This year, parking was no problem and neither was the traffic, as the festival was moved about a mile away to the grounds of the Fair Hill Race Track.

Not far enough, though, to avoid the rain, which began falling on Friday night and continued off and on through the weekend.

It appeared that the weather would cut the crowd well below the 15,000 people per day the organizers had hoped to draw. The Fair Hill Foundation said 12,000 tickets were sold for Saturday, just over 10,000 for Sunday -- but no one was saying exactly how many people showed up. Park rangers estimated Saturday's crowd at 7,000 to 10,000, and yesterday's at 6,000 by late afternoon.

Ms. Mackiewicz was not prepared for the foul weather when she showed up with her parents Saturday after a two-hour drive from East Windsor. "We got soaked," she said.

So before coming to the festival yesterday, she stopped at a local store and bought a package of large plastic garbage bags. They fit just fine, once she bound them around her legs with string.

"Improvise, adapt and overcome," said David Davidian, the video director for Clint Black, whose appearance last night was the festival finale. "It's pretty much what we do every day."

Mr. Davidian said the crew had just driven 10 hours from Charlotte, N.C., where they also played an outdoor concert in the rain.

The wet weather was not doing the electronic equipment any good, he said.

Gary Dorety and Steve Hellgren, who drove in from Philadelphia just in time for the rain Friday night, made an emergency visit to a local discount store yesterday morning, picking up two pairs of waders and a tarp. They reported that the store's foul-weather section was just about cleaned out.

Don and Marlene Newell of Earlesville came prepared with almost-matching boots and almost-matching ponchos -- his camouflage, her's plain olive drab. He also brought a huge clear plastic sheet from a microfilm machine at his business and quickly demonstrated how he and his wife had been ducking undercover all weekend.

He was doing it for love -- love of his wife, who pumped him full of Patsy Cline at their wedding and has been trying to get her rock 'n' roller husband interested in country music ever since.

He's coming around, finding that he likes the contemporary, less twangy country.

"Garth Brooks made a believer out of me," he said.

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