Rocky Gap draws 45,000


CUMBERLAND -- Some might come here expecting a country-music Woodstock -- hundreds of rowdy, beer-drinking fans camped around Lake Habeeb, enjoying the likes of Billy Ray Cyrus.

But the Rocky Gap Music Festival -- now in its sixth year -- has become more than a hoedown in the hills.

The four-day event that ends today -- while attracting about 45,000 people this year -- is as much an amiable family affair as it is a celebration of country music.

Yes, they come to see big-name country singers like Merle Haggard, Wynonna Judd and Tammy Wynette on a stage set against a gorgeous backdrop of Western Maryland mountains and water.

But they also come to enjoy the outdoors and the amenities of Rocky Gap State Park, a 3,200-acre park aside Evitts Mountain, east of Cumberland.

And then there's a variety of other activities, including lessons in line-dancing or guitar, arts and crafts, children's exhibits and food -- all of which can be enjoyed while strolling the park, listening to lesser-known country singers like Martina McBride belt out songs made popular by Patsy Cline and Linda Ronstadt.

Families poured in from Interstate 68 by the hundreds early yesterday afternoon -- from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and all over Maryland -- loaded with coolers, fishing poles and lawn chairs.

The Rocky Gap Music Festival, indeed, has become a Big Event.

"It's put Western Maryland on the map," said state Del. Casper R. Taylor Jr., president of the Rocky Gap Foundation, a nonprofit group that runs the festival.

Hotel rooms in Cumberland and Frostburg and camp sites at Rocky Gap State Park were booked a year in advance. Others in Garrett and nearby counties in Pennsylania and West Virginia were booked yesterday, forcing those late-comers without rooms travel to Hagerstown and Frederick.

"You can't get a motel within a 100-mile radius of here," Mr. Taylor said. "We've become so successful that we're spurring other development."

Mr. Taylor says organizers are looking at building a permanent stage at the park -- not only for the country music festival, but others as well.

All of this is a far cry from the first festival six years ago, which

opened on a state-subsidized budget of about $400,000. It is now a privately run, $1.2 million affair and is considered a top event among country music festivals.

The Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development estimated that the festival poured about $4.23 million into the Western Maryland economy -- $5.7 million statewide -- in 1992.

L Count Loyd and Patricia Herring of Stuart, Fla., among them.

This year marked their fifth visit to the Rocky Gap Music Festival.

"It's the people we meet and the friendships we've formed from year to year" that keeps him and his wife coming back, said Mr. Herring, 62, a retired Central Intelligence Agency employee. "A year doesn't go by that we don't meet somebody."

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