Darrington Bluegrass Festival

Located roughly an hour and a half northeast of Seattle, tucked into the base of Whitehorse Mountain, lies the little logging town of Darrington, home of the Darrington Bluegrass Festival.  This was the 46th annual festival and over the years it has grown from a few locals playing on a flatbed trailer in the rodeo rink to a 3-day festival that attracts the finest bluegrass musicians from across the U.S. and Canada.

Bluegrass Festival Sticker

What is the Bluegrass Festival?

This is not a huge festival.  I’d estimate the Friday night crowd to be no more than three to four hundred people.  Saturday's crowd may have reached 1500 in a venue that could comfortably hold double that.  If you’ve ever been traumatized by the crowds at The Gorge no worries, here you can bring your folding chair, spread out, relax in the sun, and enjoy some incredible live music.


You should leave any preconceived notion of what bluegrass music is at home.  The level of skill both instrumentally and vocally was astounding.  These groups are award-winning recording artists.  The warm sounds of an all-acoustic band playing guitars, mandolins, fiddles (not Violins), standup basses, and banjos in such beautiful harmony was wonderful but when you add three and four-part perfect vocal harmonies… well, prepare to be gobsmacked.   


The history of the festival dates back to the 1940s in North Carolina.  When the hardwood logging industry ran out in the Tar Heal state a group of loggers and their families moved across the country to the booming logging industry in Darrington and with them, they brought their love of bluegrass music. These transplanted Tar Heals would get together for weekly jam sessions and as their popularity grew, they formed the Darrington Bluegrass Association.

View from the stage

In the early 1970s, five locals formed The Whitehorse Mountaineers, a talented and popular bluegrass band.  In 1977 they held their first festival, and it has continued to grow into a nationally recognized and desirable festival for musicians across the country.  


As the unofficial photographer for the festival, I was able to speak with several of the musicians who all said that if they get an invite from the Darrington Bluegrass Festival they come without hesitation.  In citing their reasons, they all mentioned the tradition of this festival as well as the natural beauty of the area.  This year's lineup consisted of groups from as far away as Georgia, Kentucky, Kansas, and Wisconsin, as well as British Columbia, Portland, Mount Vernon, and of course Darrington. The father of the Darrington group's lead singer was one of the original Tar Heals that moved to the area in the 1940s.  The connections still run deep.

kids at the bluegrass festival


You can choose to attend a single day on Saturday and enjoy a lot of good music.  When I agreed to cover this for Explore Washington, I decided to buy the 3-day Festival and Campground Pass and immerse myself more fully in the bluegrass culture.


Boy, am I glad I did!  When I arrived on Friday all the tent sites were filled so I set up my tent camp amongst the RV’s with more than a little bit of dread.  All my worries were for naught as the people were so friendly, and the generators were off by 9 pm.  The most magical part of the entire weekend occurred in the campground at about 1 am Sunday morning as I was woken by live music.


I threw on some clothes, grabbed my flashlight, and headed out into the dark to investigate.  Just across from my tent between two RV’s, I found a group of six or seven musicians jamming around a campfire.  There were one or two musicians from the various bands, obviously friends, playing their assorted instruments.


Between tunes, they’d talk and laugh then someone would throw out the name of a song, start and the rest would join in.  This was the best live music experience I’ve ever had, and I would highly recommend camping for this reason alone.


As I wandered through the campground in the wee hours that morning, I found a half dozen more groups playing their hearts out around campfires under starry skies.  Truly amazing…

festival menu


I didn’t know what to expect as I packed to attend the festival, so I brought a cooler full of food.  I knew it was only 3 miles from the venue to town so running into Darrington to eat was another option.   As it turned out, there was a wide variety of food at the venue.  Bluegrass Concessions is a permanent building that serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  They served everything from pancakes to cheeseburgers, to Chicken Caesar salads and more.  It was all good.    


In addition, the Big Stick BBQ food truck was there for the weekend from the town of Twisp.  I had their hand-packed bacon cheeseburger.  It was seasoned to perfection and delicious.  The next time you’re in Twisp they are located across from the IGA on Hwy 20 and well worth the stop.  Other food booths at the venue served gourmet brats, Ice cream, mini donuts, and of course, coffee.   


The Darrington Bluegrass Festival is the biggest little music festival I’d never heard of, and it happens right here in our beautiful backyard.  So put a reminder in your calendar and come up to Darrington in 2024 for the 47th annual Bluegrass Festival.  You won't regret it and I’ll see you there.

Nick Dumas and Benchline

Bill Robertson

Bill Robertson is a lifelong Washingtonian from Edmonds. After retiring Bill began traveling throughout the west photographing landscapes and wildlife while writing about the beautiful “off the beaten path” places for others to explore. See more stories of Bills wayward adventures at www.dirtroadslesstraveled.com


  1. Jo Ferrero on August 6, 2023 at 9:00 pm

    Great job covering this festival Bill. Maybe we should all go next year!

    • Bill on August 8, 2023 at 6:52 am

      Hi Jo – whether we go to a day or the weekend I think you guys would love this festival. I already have it on the calendar for next year. 😉

    • Bill on August 8, 2023 at 8:04 am

      Hi Jo – You guys would love this festival. I’ve already got in on the calendar for next year…..We should talk 😉

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