Toe-tapping, foot-stomping, knee-slapping music. That's what Granite Hill Camping Resort co-owner Rich Winkelmann thinks of when he starts prepping for his bi-annual Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival in May and August.

The first festival of the year is happening now on the grassy lawn of Winkelmann's Highland Township campground and runs through Sunday. As in past years, Winkelman expects the event will draw up to 3,000 visitors.

Photos: 2015 Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival

But what is it about the sounds of fiddles, banjos and guitars that has drawn guests to the Adams County festival since 1979? Winkelmann doesn't know for sure, but he thinks it has a lot to do with the near-universal appeal of fun music and good company.

"I always say everyone's a bluegrass fan; they just might not know it yet," he said with a laugh Thursday after handing out wristbands to a line of festival goers at the campground's entrance.

The Gettysburg Bluegrass Festival debuted more than 40 years ago as a three-day festival in May and early September. The event has since expanded to a four-day gala in May and August, drawing in big bluegrass names like Bill Monroe and John Duffey over the years, according to the festival's website.

Winkelmann credits the event's continued success to the musicians, both big and small, who continue to draw in the crowds every year, as well as the fun atmosphere created by powerful bluegrass songs.

Mike Cleveland has known the appeal of bluegrass almost his entire life, he said as he waited backstage at the festival Thursday with his band, Flamekeeper.

His grandparents started a bluegrass association in his hometown in Indiana when he was young, he said, and he instantly fell in love with the genre, which he associates with energetic, driving rhythms and three-part harmonies.

He picked up his first fiddle when he was 4, he said, and has since won multiple honors, including nine Fiddle Player of the Year awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

He also happens to be blind, a trait that has not inhibited him from pursuing his passion. Music teachers always tell students to learn to play with their eyes closed, Cleveland said, and, with the help of instructors from the Kentucky School for the Blind, he quickly picked up the muscle memory to play the notes.

Gettysburg is the perfect place to share his love of bluegrass with audiences, he said, because the town sits right in the center of one of the most popular bluegrass areas in the country. He has been playing the Adams County festival every year for more years than he can remember.

Cleveland was in the company of many like-minded bluegrass fans Thursday as a sea of lawn chairs started spreading out in front of the campground's stage. For many, the event is an annual tradition.

Wrightsville resident Shelia Loreto has attended the festival for 26 years, she said, and her husband started coming several years before her. The couple has since met bluegrass fans from Florida, Maryland, Ohio and Pennsylvania and makes a point to camp with them every year.

Not everyone is an instant bluegrass fan though.

Gary Cranford, of Damascus, Maryland, has attended the festival several times. This year, he brought his wife, Doreen, and her friend, Lisa Swearinger, with him for the first time.

As they sat in front of the stage Thursday, they said they enjoyed the company but weren't sure what to think of the genre yet.

"They're not into it too much, but they're growing," Gary Cranford said with a laugh.


Michael Cleveland and Flamekeeper

Blue Highway

Hogslop String Band

Dailey and Vincent


The Stray Birds

Kenny & Amanda Smith Band

Balsam Range

Steep Canyon Rangers




Dry Branch Fire Squad


Rhonda Vincent and The Rage

The Seldom Scene

Big Country Bluegrass

Jerry Douglas Presents The Earls of Leicester


Dry Branch Fire Squad

Big Country Bluegrass

The Seldom Scene


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