Ask a historian about Brandywine, and you’ll get an answer something like, “Site of an important battle in the American Revolution . . . and the DuPont company built its first gunpowder factory on the banks of Brandywine Creek.” Ask an artist and you’ll hear about N. C. and Andrew Wyeth, and others who painted in their style. Ask an East Coast Old-Time Herald reader about Brandywine, and watch his or her eyes fill with old memories, as they struggle for words and finally say, “Wow . . . first old-time festival I ever went to.” Most of us will remember the now-defunct Brandywine Mountain Music Convention with happy memories, and may be surprised to learn that the organization remains robust and sponsors old-time music concerts and other old-time projects regularly.
The Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music are now in their 38th year of being, as their name says, friends of old-time music. It all started with a couple of law students at the University of Pennsylvania, Carl Goldstein and Shel Sandler. Both had been bitten by the “folk bug” back in the early ‘60s. But it wasn’t just the folk bug, it was the mountain music that they found so compelling. Who wouldn’t, living as they did in close proximity to Sunset Park, with Ola Belle Reed and Alex Campbell, and taking summers off to drive south to Galax and Union Grove?
In a way, you can blame this all on Manny Greenhill, a Boston-area promoter of traditional music. He was arranging concerts throughout New England for people like Ralph Stanley and Dewey Balfa. It dawned on Carl, Shel, and their friend and band mate Mike Hudak (a protégé of autoharp virtuoso Kilby Snow) that these performers traveled right past Wilmington and Philadelphia without stopping. The three friends decided they needed an organization in order to sponsor concerts, and so the Brandywine Friends of Old-Time Music was born in 1971.
Around the same time, Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley approached them. Would the fledgling organization be willing to sponsor a summer bluegrass festival somewhere nearby? Monroe and Stanley would provide the talent. Who could say no? A site was arranged in nearby Bear, Delaware. Interestingly, Monroe did not want any old-time music at the festival. Inviting performers somewhere near the dividing line between bluegrass and old-time music, such as Alex, Ola Belle, and the Strange Creek Singers was not enough to satisfy the organizers. They wanted even more old-time music in their lives.