It doesn't have a fancy name like “Firefly” just yet. None of the performers have been announced. And it's not yet known when tickets will go on sale.
It doesn’t have a fancy name like “Firefly” just yet. None of the performers have been announced. And it’s not yet known when tickets will go on sale.
But, one thing is certain: there will be a major country music festival coming to the Delaware State Fairgrounds next summer.
Live Nation, the creators of many country music festivals throughout, is teaming with Delaware entrepreneur Alex Pires and his Highway One company to coordinate the massive event slated for Aug. 14 through Aug. 16.
Brian O’Connell, Live Nation’s president of country touring, didn’t mince words when he described the upcoming festival as “a three-day hillbilly sleepover.”
Pires, the owner of the Bottle & Cork and Rusty Rudder in Dewey Beach, said he excited about the partnership and upcoming musical venture.
“I just want us to do a very good job,” he said. “I want people to come in and say they got fair value for their dollar, saw world-class stars and they had a great time. We want to make this an annual event. It would be great for Delaware and would be great for Harrington.”
Pires previously hoped to hold the country music festival and other events at an 1,100-acre farm in Harbeson. However, that proposal was with met with opposition from neighbors of the Sussex County farm.
Pires officially withdrew his application for a conditional use permit from consideration by Sussex County Council in August. If approved, the permit would have allowed him to host the festival on up to 500 acres of the Harbeson farm. His request also included plans for four other events a year, including one other music festival and three one-day charity events.
Council’s vote meant Pires would have been able to reapply for a permit at any time, rather than the one-year mandatory waiting period that would have been imposed if the request had been defeated.
But Pires had maintained for months that he would take his proposed festival to Harrington if Sussex County were not interested.
Kent County Tourism Director Cindy Small said she couldn’t be happier that Pires will be bringing his country music festival to southern Kent County.
“What a nice compliment to the Firefly [Music] Festival [that takes place at Dover Downs each June] and it’s kind of like bookends on the western and eastern sides of the county,” she said. “We’re going to bring another market of people here to the area to see us and the Delaware State Fairgrounds is a fantastic place for all of this to happen.”
The Delaware State Fairgrounds in Harrington may have been option No. 2, but O’Connell’s eyes seemed to light up when he looked out at the 26-acre property where the festival will take place.
“We scouted different locations in Delaware, but we loved the sense of welcome we got from this facility,” O’Connell said.
Rather than having artists perform in front of the Delaware State Fair grandstand, the country music festival will take place in an open field on the south end of the fairgrounds that’s usually reserved for state fair parking.
“We aren’t using the existing stage or stands because we don’t want it to be the same experience as the [state] fair,” O’Connell said. “We don’t want to replicate what’s been going on [here] for the past 96 years.”
O’Connell said the festival would feature two stages, including a main stage and a Next to Nashville stage for up-and-coming artists. His preliminary plan is to have five to six acts on the main stage and four or five acts on the Next to Nashville stage every day.
He said he expects to sell “affordable” general admission tickets to the festival.
O’Connell said a three-day pass to a festival Live Nation will host in New York City next summer will cost about $225. He said he anticipates the price tag for the Harrington festival to be even lower.
“We’re not going to be coming in here and jacking people on prices,” he said. “That does not build community, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
The New York event, called FarmBorough, will take place on Randall’s Island from June 26 to June 28 and will be headlined by country stars Luke Bryan, Brad Paisley and Dierks Bentley.
O’Connell said he is expecting nothing less when it comes to Delaware’s country music festival, although details like the lineup and ticket information won’t be revealed for at least a few more weeks.
Regardless of who plays and how much tickets cost, O’Connell said he expects the festival to have a long-running relationship with Harrington.
“I’m not looking to move,” he said. “I’m as loyal as they come. [Harrington] has welcomed us with open arms and I like the vibe here. The vibe feels like family already.
Ron Draper, president of the Delaware State Fair’s board of directors, said Harrington is already pleased to have them. “Country music is the heart of the Delaware State Fair and we are so pleased that Live Nation and Highway One selected the fairgrounds to showcase such a premier music festival,” he said. “We are looking forward to making Harrington the hub of country music on Delmarva and possibly even the country.”