Hail No - Del Yeah!

Article Contributed by Gina | Published on Friday, May 29, 2009

Sophomore efforts from fledgling music festivals are often very telling as to where the event seems poised to go, in its’ bid for survival in the summer festival market.  I remember the first year of All Good – when Deep Banana Blackout’s drummer dodged falling stage rigging, as a big storm approached.  My husband’s a taper, we have a recording of it.. All of a sudden, the storm was just ‘there,’ and in a big, angry, way.  Then the rigging came crashing down.  It was a lot like a freight train in its sudden ferocity.  Those kinds of storms aren’t funny at all.  Those are the kinds of storms where you start scanning the horizon, searching for the smartest place to hide.

The Second Annual DelFest, in Cumberland, Maryland, got ‘one of those storms,’ on Saturday afternoon.

Walking with my three year old son, John, to see Joe Craven’s kid’s show at the pavilion, the weather looked as it had all weekend, cloudy, sometimes threatening, and quite hot and humid.  It was all the ingredients necessary to cook up a good storm.

In the period of about five minutes a light misting rain turned into a freakishly intense thunderstorm, with stiff winds, and at times, ping pong ball sized hail.  We were to learn later, through the National Weather Service, about 5 minutes prior to the first drops of precipitation coming  down, there were but 2 very small and decidedly non-threatening looking green blips on radar - one approaching from the South/West, and the other from the North/East.  It looked like rain was coming, nothing more.

Chris Bowman, a professional stage manager working the event, told me that the organizers were well aware that some light rainfall was approaching, and on the radar it looked just like that.  He made a point of explaining that the entire organization had been watching real time Doppler, the entire festival weekend.  Then, Bowman added, “these two little green "blips" on the radar (there weren't any of the orange or red patches which forecast a weather event) created a massive storm --with 3 documented tornadoes touching down -- in somewhere in the neighborhood of 15 minutes.” Bowman, who had to rescue his own girl friend from under collapsed staging added, “there was no way that we could have possibly predicted this weather event.”

Huddled with about 30 other parents and kids under the pavilion, we were all quite dry, at first.  Then it seemed as if the storm took a shift in gear and got a great deal ‘meaner.’  The hail got quite heavy, the wind picked up even more, and we started watching debris fly through the air..  We could see campsites being decimated nearby.  The temperature dropped about twenty degrees in minutes.

Holding my son, and distracting him from the seriousness of the weather, I wondered about my husband, who was taping at the main stage.  Happily, I would learn that he got his rig down, and out of there, before he had to endure the hail.  We heard later, of tapers not so lucky, trapped in the storm with only a large tarp to protect them against the elements.  At least one taper reported ‘bloodied knuckles’ from holding the tarp during the onslaught of hail stones.  And some tapers lost thousands of dollars in soaked recording gear.

campsiteThis storm went on by my rough estimation, for about an hour total.  There was a lull midway, when I reconnected with my husband, and we went to the campsite to assess the damage. Thanking the Greek God Dionysian for the power of kiddie videos, we deposited our soaking wet son into a car seat and hit ‘play’ on Thomas the Train..

It was still raining, quite windy, and obvious even before ‘act two,’ that we’d have to leave early.  Our campsite was destroyed.  And that really described most of the campsites we could see.  We silently started collecting what of our belongings we could find, and positioning them at the back of the car, to try to pack them, soaking wet and all.  As the afternoon progressed, we heard stories of at least one tent taking a direct hit from a tree.  And several people were hit by lightning.  We could hear the ambulances as they arrived.

Then round two of the storm hit, with a vengeance.  Suddenly, very heavy amounts of ping pong ball sized hail began to fall again.  This was worse than what had come before it. Larger items started going airborne.  Our car, where we’d taken refuge, was hit my something large and metal, and  we still don’t know what it was.  It bounced off the hood and went on its’ way.

We were to learn, later, of the nearly-tragic destruction of the main stage area, including sound tents, merchandise tents, and vendors.  I read blogger accounts of moms with babies being sheltered admirably by the Sierra Nevada Beer merchants. I learned that many or most of those beautiful Martin Guitars on display were damaged or destroyed.  I can only imagine how much product vendors lost to the water alone.  Asking Bowman about initial damage reports from backstage, he replied,  “my computer & printer,  Joe Craven's computer, Sam Bush's & Old Crow's gear, which we were frantically trying to save from being destroyed, and my girlfriend’s car took a direct hit from falling stage rigging."

sam-bushThere were a lot of people who ‘just had to leave,’ after this.  My family was one of them.  So I can’t offer you a full musical review of what happened this year.  But I’d go again, despite what happened this year weather-wise.  What happened could not have been predicted, and manifested so suddenly, there wasn’t time to notify anyone.  The folks at DelFest did all anyone could have predicted appropriate, given the radar imagery, and available time before the storm’s arrival.  It blew up right above us, essentially.

But  in the storm’s aftermath, the true spirit of DelFest fully blossomed with the mountainous task of rebuilding staging and returning music to the festival happening within a mere five hours later.  That couldn’t have been easy, given the conditions. The entire crew deserves a beer, for that alone. That, and dry clothes, likely..

Should DelFest maybe be a bit over cautious next year and announce rain showers as they approach the festival site – even if they look benign?  It might be a good idea.  But I don’t fault them for their decisions this year.  We all pulled a ‘bad card,’ weather wise.  Or from a more positive standpoint, we who attended are all lucky that this wasn’t far, far, worse.