DOVER – The time to slip on the boots and don cowboy hats has officially arrived.
The first Big Barrel Country Music Festival opened its gates at noon Friday, filling the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway with a steady stream of country music lovers.
Big Barrel is being held at the same location as last week’s Firefly Music Festival and produced by the same Red Frog Events of Chicago. But with its expected crowd of between 30,000 and 35,000 compared to Firefly’s 90,000, it is scaled back in size, utilizing about a third of the Woodlands.
One of the attractions drawing fans in early Friday was an autograph signing session in the Shake and Howdy tent by one of the most anticipated acts of the festival, Cassadee Pope.
Brianna McCarthy, Brittany McCarthy and Jenny Raffaeli were about 100th in line to meet Ms. Pope Friday.
“We bought tickets as soon as we heard they were on sale,” Brittany said. “It’s our first time going to a country music festival and it’s awesome so far. Everywhere you walk, you can hear music playing.”
The three were most excited to see Ms. Pope and Miranda Lambert, who will perform tonight in the closing set on the main stage.
“We’ve never seen Miranda live before,” Ms. Raffaeli said. “That’s how much of a fan I am, I talk about her on a first-name basis.”
Keeping with the country theme, guests had access to a Dance Hall where the Dogfish Head Tent stood last week where people could not only dance but get some shade and cool air too.
Plenty of attendees also dressed for the country theme, donning denim, cowboy hats and cowboy boots.
A trio of friends from Wilmington, Judy Christofferson, Alice Saunders and Lori Trainor, were dressed for the occasion and looking forward to seeing Blake Shelton and Lynyrd Skynyrd, who played later in the evening Friday.
“It’s just fantastic and everyone is very festive,” Ms. Trainor said, posing before two giant guitars in her country outfit.
“The atmosphere seems to be really upbeat and we’re all excited.”
Ms. Saunders and Ms. Trainor both had sons who attended Firefly last weekend, but they chose Big Barrel to attend instead.
“I went to Stagecoach (a California-based country music festival aligned with Big Barrel) last year and it was amazing,” Ms. Trainor said. “So when I heard this was coming to Delaware, I had to come.”
Big Barrel also brings some interesting experiences to the festival aside from the music and atmosphere. For those with an interest in the history and process of brewing beer and distilling whiskey, Budweiser and Jack Daniels have a mobile brewery and distillery open for tours on the grounds, each offering complimentary photos.
As far as food goes, there’s options for everyone in the BBQ Pit, an area with a wide variety of pork options and vendors like The Sausage Haus and Island Noodles, which served Firefly fans and made a comeback this week for the country fans.
For the kids or young at heart, there’s a petting zoo, carnival games and 10 Budweiser Clydesdales on display.
“We brought the kids because it was advertised as a family-friendly event and so far it has been,” Skyler Sills of Dover said. He and his wife, Sarah brought their three children ages 2, 4 and 6.
“We take them with us everywhere so events like this where the whole family is welcome are great for us,” Ms. Sills said.
The endless puddles and muddy terrain that plagued Firefly were relieved Fridays after a few days baking in the heat and the filling in of puddles and low-lying areas with sand.
A stream of muck that had formed near the Firefly stage last week now has multiple wooden foot-bridges allowing guests to cross without sinking ankle-deep in the mud.
Although the mud has improved since Firefly ended, there may be a setback today as the National Weather Service is calling for heavy rain from around noon into the evening.
But unlike Firefly, Big Barrel guests are permitted to bring in soft-back folding chairs so guests can relax without sitting on the soggy ground if wet conditions do roll in.
Gates open at 12:30 p.m. today and Sunday.
A full schedule and lineup can be found online at bigbarrel.com.