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Carl Goldstein: Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival

Carl Goldstein has been promoting and presenting bluegrass music for most of his life. The International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) has recognized his efforts with a Distinguished Achievement Award, presented at the IBMA 2023 World of Bluegrass Awards luncheon. For over fifty years, he has demonstrated passion, determination, and integrity in presenting bluegrass music as Chair of the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music. In addition to helping coordinate or oversee hundreds of bluegrass and old-time shows, he has maintained a radio program at WVUD on the campus of the University of Delaware for the past 46 years.

Carl has been interested in music since his days in high school in Chester, Pennsylvania and on through college. He followed Ralph Stanley and Bill Monroe and got to know the musicians personally. In 1972, they approached Carl about starting a festival in the Northeast. Carl formed the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music to get the ball rolling on the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival. “It started as an all-volunteer, non-profit organization,” he explained. Carl did the work as the founder, chief executive officer and festival director when he wasn’t busy at his job as a Superior Court Judge in Wilmington, Delaware.

The Delaware Bluegrass Festival, as it was then called, was a hit from the start. Like many festivals, the audience became family, jamming with the other festivalgoers and the musicians playing at the festival. “It is like a reunion each year,” Carl says. “The fans return year after year, and many artists return every other year or so.” In 1990, the festival moved to the Salem County Fairgrounds in Woodstown, New Jersey, and became the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival.

For many artists, the festival is a place to start on their rise to success. “Alison Krauss played here three times before the year 2000. She played here when she was just 17 years old.” Others who have played the festival in their early days as musical artists include the Colorado-based band Front Range and Laurie Lewis of California. “Ours was the first festival she ever did east of the Mississippi,” says Carl.

Plans were made to celebrate Carl’s fifty years at the helm of the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival in 2022. “I think fifty years is the term limit,” he jokes. But the celebration didn’t happen because Carl ended up in the hospital. Still, he turned the reins of the festival leadership over to Debbie Durant and Brian Duffy of the Tuesday Mountain Boys. “They have done a really good job,” Carl says.

Carl continues to play music for fun. “I played with a band called Southbound for a few years, and I play a little old-time music. My wife, Judy, is a wonderful old-time fiddle player and plays with a band called Tater Patch. She is on the board of Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music, and through the years, she always assisted me in my duties.” The couple met at a concert forty years ago.

Debbie Durant started going to the festival in 1995. “I found some people to go with me. I didn’t grow up listening to live music, but I listened to the Will the Circle Be Unbroken album, which was my gateway to bluegrass. It was an album that other kids at school listened to, so it was cool.” Debbie first went to one set a day at the three-day festival, and by 2000, she was camping at the festival.

“I was asked to be on the board in 2004 or 2005,” Debbie says. Brian Duffy is now the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music chair, and Debbie serves as vice chair. They co-direct the festival. “The quality of the music is different from a lot of other festivals. Many have a big headliner band, a few OK bands, and some local bands. Almost all of our performers are national quality performers. We have a good selection of bluegrass, old-time and traditional American music.” One of the distinctive features of the festival is that all the workers are volunteers. “We do that to keep our ticket prices reasonable compared to other festivals with similar quality acts,” says Debbie.

The festival also introduces musical artists from different related traditional genres. “We have had French Canadian and Cajun music and related country acts like Patty Loveless and Kathy Mattea,” says Carl, “but our strength has always been traditional bluegrass and old-time music. We have had Tuba Skinny from New Orleans and the Red Stick Ramblers from Baton Rouge. Folks enjoy the variety.”

As the festival grows, new things are added. The Kid’s Academy has been very popular, and this year, they added a songwriter workshop with Vincent Cross. “We also have a jam class and clogging class. We also have a better vendor selection. We want to build community. We are known for our excellent campground jamming, and anyone can go into the campground and jam. The Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival is like Christmas for me, seeing all the people I’ve gotten to know over the years.”

Even though Carl is no longer running the show, he is making himself available to answer questions and troubleshoot. According to the IBMA, Carl Goldstein “is one of the most impactful individuals in the history of bluegrass music in promoting, preserving, and presenting our beloved music for all to enjoy.”

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