Festival is a chance to get to know the real Deale


THE TINY South County community of Deale is not your typical quaint waterfront village. There are few knickknack shops or expensive restaurants here. The boats that bob at the docks along Rockhold Creek are mainly bay-built fishing boats that have served more than one generation of watermen.

"This has always been a workingman's town," said resident Steve Miller, 52, whose family runs nearby Miller's Garage. Like much of Anne Arundel County, Deale also was a summer destination for urban dwellers, many of whom have decided to make permanent homes here and have been absorbed into the fabric of the community.

There are no big chain stores in Deale. Wheeler's Hardware, for example, is a real hardware store where you can find tomato cages, power tools and a staff that actually knows where things are in the store.

There are plenty of local businesses eager to promote the "down-home" charms of the village. The Deale Merchants Association, which includes Wheeler's and 184 other local enterprises, is planning an event to showcase the spirit of Deale. On Saturday, the fourth annual Deale Bluegrass Festival and Car Show will feature top-name bluegrass acts and hundreds of pre-1974 cars, from antiques classics to muscle cars and street rods.

Miller, one of the festival organizers, says that bringing together cars and bluegrass has brought out the best in Deale. "You have lots of car shows and lots of bluegrass festivals, but no one had combined them before," he said.

It was a natural fit since both events are family-oriented and promote Deale's rural roots. Claire Mallicote, 62, president of the merchants' group, feels that the festival helps spotlight the low-key atmosphere. "We are putting out the welcome mat to everyone," said Mallicote.

Promotion by Tim Finch brings acts such as the Seldom Scene and Rhonda Vincent. "If it's going to work, you've got to do it right," said Finch.

Finch moved to Deale five years ago. He opened Good Deale Bluegrass and tapped into a local clientele hungry for a hangout. Friday nights, 60 to 70 musicians and friends mob the shop for a jam session. Young and old have started taking lessons and enjoying traditional American music.

On a recent afternoon, Sara Needham, 15, a sophomore at Southern High School, was giving a fiddle lesson to a young player. Sara loves the presence of the shop in Deale. "It is a lot of fun to get involved with other bluegrass people in my own town," she said.

Just over the creek, around the bar at Happy Harbor, a dockside restaurant and local landmark, the regulars quizzed Finch about the coming festival while nibbling soft crab sandwiches. The jukebox played country tunes, and Finch stopped speaking for a moment and smiled when someone dropped a quarter in and played a tune by the Good Deale Bluegrass Band, the group formed to play at the first festival.

"This is just a cool little town," said Finch, a native of Montgomery County who sees the festival as a way to bring bluegrass to a broad audience.

Steve O'Neill, who grew up in Deale and now lives in nearby Tracey's Landing, loves seeing people at the festival who he might not otherwise run into. "It's the biggest social event of the year. We should have been doing this 30 years ago," he said.

Down the bar, Wayne Knopp, a lifelong resident from a family of watermen, mused about the popularity of the festival and the out-of-town people it draws.

"It's great. Bring them in, let them have a great time - and then tell them to go home," he said. While it's fine to share his town for a day, Knopp worries that Deale will succumb to the pressures of development that many see as inevitable.

Herrington Harbour North Marina, operated by Hamilton Chaney, 30, plays host to the festival, which is expected to draw between 5,000 and 7,000 people. The marina is one of the only spots that can accommodate the crowds.

"This is really the grass roots of America," said Chaney. "People from all walks of life come to enjoy what Deale has to offer, and having it at the marina means we can bring in the maritime character of the area."

Charter boats will provide free tours of Herring Bay and the menu includes crab soup, crab cakes and steamed crabs.

The festival runs from noon to 7 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the gate. Information: 410-867-6707 or www.deale merchants.com.

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