Watermelon Park Fest at 10 years

Posted: September 26, 2013

The Winchester Star

The Green Boys
The Masters of Bluegrass

Berryville — Watermelon Park Fest will celebrate its 10th year as it marked the previous nine years — with lots of music and enjoyment, organizers say.

Three days of performances, dancing, camping, children’s activities, workshops, competitions, and jam sessions will start today and run through Saturday at the venue along the Shenandoah River, said David Van Deventer, co-owner of Shepherds Ford Productions of Bluemont, which organizes the festival.

Reaching a decade usually prompts people to look back or forward, and Van Deventer said he and his business partner, Frazer Watkins, are enjoying a little bit of both.

“I started thinking about how my daughter wasn’t even born when we started and all the people we have lost,” said Van Deventer of Bluemont. “I am amazed that 10 years have gone by.”

In their own special nod to the occasion, the pair painted the normally silver office trailer to look like a giant watermelon, Frazer said. It is parked at the event at 3322 Lockes Mill Road near Berryville.

For festival-goers, the main event to mark the anniversary is a special oral history workshop offered by park owner John Miller Jr. and the members of The Masters of Bluegrass — Del McCoury, Bobby Osborne, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and Jerry McCoury. The group will speak at 4 p.m. Saturday about Clarke County’s rich cultural and musical history, Frazer said.

“We have a lot of young musicians who perform on our stage, and they don’t have any idea of the history of this place or even the genre,” said Frazer, of Berryville.

The music starts on the main stage at 4 p.m. today, at 3 p.m. Friday and at 3 p.m. Saturday. Opening the festival is The Green Boys, the winner of the 2012 festival band competition, Van Deventer said.

The Masters of Bluegrass will also be one of the weekend’s headliners, joining about 20 bands playing throughout the festival, he said. The band, which will play at 8:30 p.m. Saturday, is composed of five bluegrass legends who have all played the festival before.

Larry Keel and Natural Bridge and Furnace Mountain, two regional bands, will offer a mix of progressive and old-time bluegrass. Cedric Watson and Bijou Creole brings its mix of Cajun, Creole and Zydeco. “They are the most nationally known acts,” Frazer said.

Many of the bands are new this year, such as The Stray Birds, a Pennsylvania trio with roots in the American folk music traditions; The Quebe Sisters Band, a Texas trio of sisters singing harmony and playing fiddle, and Adam Hurt, “a banjo virtuoso,” Van Deventer said.

Other bands playing the festival include Beth Williams Hartness, Danny Barnes, The Woodshedders, Taarka, The South Carolina Broadcasters, David Via, Old Man Leudecke, The Earlybird Stringband, The Locust Honey String Band, and The Bumper Jacksons.

When people are not listening to music on the main stage, they still will have plenty to keep them busy, Van Deventer said. Workshops have been set up throughout each day on partner dancing, contra dancing, printmaking, hooping, flatfooting and clogging, and a new one on songwriting, Frazer said. “We haven’t had one before on songwriting, and we wanted to expand a little.”

Musicians can test their skills in the festivals three contests — a band contest with a $1,000 prize, a mandolin picking contest with a prize of a Yellowstone HT Mandolin valued at more than $4,000, and a guitar competition with cash prizes, he said.

Because families are a big part of the weekend, organizers have plenty of children’s activities planned throughout the event, including toy sword making, storytelling, gorilla gardening, making hula hoops, a “canjo” instrument making workshop, and watermelon carving and boatmaking.

The boatmaking is a highlight for many children as they carve and then launch their boats down the river, said Frazer, who created the event. “They are getting really good at it. They are quite elaborate.”

There will also be food and craft vendors on site, he said.


Weekend tickets are $80, including camping through Saturday. Day pass tickets, which include free tent camping and free lot parking on day of admission, are $60 Friday and $65 Saturday. Children under 12 are admitted free. For more information, contact 540-955-1621 or go to watermelonparkfest.com.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com