Carl Goldstein – Delaware Bluegrass

This is the second of an occasional series of features on personalities in the bluegrass music world. 

Carl GoldsteinCarl J Goldstein is a co-founder (in 1971), and now Chair, of the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music (BFOTM) and a Director of the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival since its inception.

From September to May, the BFOTM holds concerts and related events in several locations in New Castle County including the Grand Opera House in Wilmington. The bluegrass festival is held at the Salem County fairgrounds in Woodstown New Jersey on Labor Day a Weekend.

Since 1977 he has worked as a DJ presenting bluegrass, old time and traditional country music on WVUD, the Voice of the University of Delaware, in Newark, Delaware, and streaming from its website.

Goldstein was named a member of the WVUD Hall of Fame in 2011.

He served as a member of the IBMA showcase committee for many years.

Goldstein has a record collection of over 5,000 albums (comprising LPs and CDs).

He has a law degree from the University of Pennsylvania, was appointed to the Municipal Court for the City of Wilmington in 1970, then to the Superior Court for the State of Delaware in 1990, retiring in 2013 after 40 years of distinguished service in the legal profession.

Where were you born and raised?

“I was born in Chester, Pennsylvania, a suburb of Philadelphia. As a kid in the 1950s I listened to clear channel country stations playing bluegrass and country, and R&B stations out of Philly. I also lived just a few blocks from radio station WPWA where Bill Haley and the Saddlemen played country music each week (yes, the Bill Haley who later changed his band name to the Comets!)

I moved to Wilmington Delaware after I graduated from Law School in the early 1960s and frequented the legendary Sunset Part each summer Sunday where I got to hear all of the greats in bluegrass and Country Music.

So when and where did you first hear bluegrass music (what were the circumstances)?

“I heard bluegrass on the radio and by way of LPs first but my first live concert was the Greenbrier Boys about 1963 in Philadelphia. I was learning to play guitar in my last year of Law School along with my friend Shel Sandler who was learning claw-hammer banjo. (Together we significantly lowered the average grade of all those who had to listen to us practice.) We saw the announcement of the Greenbriers playing with Joan Baez at Town Hall in Philly.

I should mention that my interests from the beginning included an interest in blues and old time music.”

You’re chairman of the Friends of the Brandywine Old-Time Music organization Delaware Valley BG Festival; how does one distinguish one from the other, or are they just part of the same body?

“The Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music was formed by myself, Shel Sandler and the late Mike Hudak in 1970. After years of travelling to North Carolina and Virginia to hear and learn the music we thought we could present Appalachian based old time and bluegrass locally. Our very first concert was with Ralph Stanley in January of 1971 followed by the legendary Cajun band the Balfa Brothers.

I became friends with Ralph and in 1972 he and Bill Monroe asked if we would sponsor a Bluegrass Festival in Delaware. That was the first Delaware Bluegrass Festival just south of Wilmington, Delaware.

To answer your question, the Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music is the organization which produces the (now) Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival. The organization is involved in other activities to promote the music such as monthly concerts.”

You started the festival over 40 years ago and have seen many changes in the way the business is  run;  what have been the biggest changes in that time?

“It has changed in many ways,

More families attend the festival in the last 10 years or so. As have other festivals, we now have a Children’s Stage and a Kids Academy program.

The audience is (finally) becoming younger. (I know that last comment may not be relevant to a festival directed toward the ‘edgier’ groups – no criticism intended here – but we have maintained a traditional ‘attitude’ while incorporating many new and interesting bands we feel still fall within our general interests.)

The fees for the most popular performers have increased significantly (they deserve every penny, by the way) – but that impacts the composition of the line-up to some extent.

From Day 1, we have always included some old time music and often related traditional fare such as Cajun, French Canadian, traditional County and ‘Americana’ acts to lend some flavor to our line-up. I have noticed the audience responding more and more to the mix of styles while understanding our main focus remains traditional bluegrass.

I find all of these trends to be encouraging.”

How has your legal training been helpful in managing a big festival?

I suppose in the obvious ways. I tend to read the contracts an organization must enter into to produce a festival – and not just those with performers. I understand that a contact is an agreement between the parties so that the terms of the contact can be negotiated if an issue arises.

Perhaps my judicial experience helps more since I’m inclined to view both sides of an issue before making the wrong decision.

I get to joke with Charlie Sizemore.”

How have you kept abreast of what appeals to audiences through the years?

“Many of our Board members attend numerous concerts and festivals throughout the year. IBMA has also been a significant source for discovering new acts particularly through the annual showcases.

I’d like to point out we are a non-profit all volunteer organization, and have been from the beginning with no one on the Board receiving any compensation for their services. We are all here for the love of the music.”

So, is it simply a matter of keeping things fresh, so to speak?

“Fresh is good but meaningful, powerful, interesting and entertaining are just as good.”

From your perspective, how has the music changed through the years?

“I don’t pretend to have an accurate overview of the music today, but from my perspective as a Festival director and radio host, I see a couple things. The traditional side of bluegrass seems to have maintained a fairly steady hold despite dire predictions to the contrary. The ‘new grass’ groups have not so much eaten into a traditional audience as they have brought a new younger audience to the table. And even a traditional oriented guy like myself can see that as a good thing.

I see a burgeoning interest in old time music which delights us no end. That too is bringing a younger crowd to the table. It does however, seem to be a tougher time for smaller festivals. That is unfortunate. I hope a recovering economy will help.

I am not qualified to speak to the technological side of music but obviously we are going through cataclysmic changes there which impact us all directly or indirectly.”

Would you care to elaborate on this last comment, please?

“I’m referring to the change to digital technology. It obviously requires major adjustments in the way bands sell their product and the way it is distributed and enjoyed.”

In what ways has bluegrass music affected your life?

Judy and Carl Goldstein“Bluegrass and old time music has enriched my life immensely. I treasure my work as Chair of the Brandywine Friends, Director of our Festival and my weekly radio show on WVUD. It has resulted in my finding and enjoying the friendship of dozens of fascinating people including my wife of over 32 years (a fine old time fiddler). It has also allowed me the privilege of getting to know many of the great artists in this music.”

You have experience in such a broad range of responsibilities in the bluegrass entertainment business, what have you found that works and what doesn’t?

“We are and always have been a non-profit all-volunteer organization. So we have had the luxury of following our charge of presenting and preserving traditional American folk music, principally Bluegrass and Old Time Music. We have found however that spicing up our festivals with related traditional musics like Cajun, Celtic or traditional country has made the programs more interesting to a wider audience while still showcasing the best of our more central interest.”

Archie Warnock, stage manager for the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival and recently elected Brandywine Friends of Old Time Music Board member, speaks highly of Goldstein:

Archie Warnock“The 40 plus year run of the Delaware Valley Bluegrass Festival, now one of the oldest continuously running bluegrass festivals in the world, is a testament to Carl’s determination, skill and devotion to the cause of bringing high-quality, traditional entertainers to the stage. As the Chairman of the Board of the Brandywine Friends, he successfully manages the job of herding the cats on the Board into an efficient team that, year after year, puts on one of the best weekends of music to be found anywhere. I’ve been involved in the process for over 15 years and, as a relative newcomer, I still marvel at how well he manages the task.”

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About the Author

Richard Thompson

Richard F. Thompson is a long-standing free-lance writer specialising in bluegrass music topics.

A two-time Editor of British Bluegrass News, he has been seriously interested in bluegrass music since about 1970. As well as contributing to that magazine, he has, in the past 30 plus years, had articles published by Country Music World, International Country Music News, Country Music People, Bluegrass Unlimited, MoonShiner (the Japanese bluegrass music journal) and Bluegrass Europe.

He wrote the annotated series I’m On My Way Back To Old Kentucky, a daily memorial to Bill Monroe that culminated with an acknowledgement of what would have been his 100th birthday, on September 13, 2011.