Bay Journal

Little-known Kingman Island draws big bluegrass crowds

Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival continues to attract droves to spot near Anacostia River.

  • By Whitney Pipkin on May 03, 2015
The annual Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival drew 10,000 people on April 25. (provided by Brightest Young Things) RFK Stadium is seen in the distance as attendees of the festival enjoy free kayaking on the Anacostia River. (provided by Brightest Young Things)

There's very little not to like about the Kingman Island Bluegrass Festival — even with a lot of people in attendance. In its sixth year, the festival perched on a manmade island along the Anacostia River drew 10,000 people outdoors April 25 despite overcast weather that eventully turned to rain. 

The event, which we've suggested you attend before, raises money for Living Classrooms, a foundation that educates youth on the environment while working to improve it. (See our story about their work here.) The organization's DC Green Team, which provides environmental and landscaping job skills, keeps Kingman Island clean year-round, as well as before and after the festival. 

Alex Quarles, director of development for Living Classrooms' National Capital Region, said handing out reusable metal cups to attendees made that easier this year. The festival encourages attendees to bring their own reusable water bottles; the cups are for beer (350 kegs were on hand to prevent running out as in years past). Sierra Nevada's beer trailer was even solar-powered.

"This year was the cleanest so far," Quarles said of the event, which she hopes to continue "greening" in years to come. "From a trash standpoint, we hardly had any garbage at all."

On a sunny day, Quarles would like to see more of the sound equipment used by dozens of bluegrass bands powered with solar as well.

The metal cups replaced the compostable corn cups (they look like plastic) that were used last year. The more than a half-dozen food trucks that wheeled in for the event were asked to bring compostable materials to serve their grilled cheeses and cupcakes in, but Quarles said that was difficult to enforce once the event began. 

This year was the first in which Living Classrooms worked with Mission Tix to track tickets and get a firm number of attendees — 10,000 throughout the course of the event, which lasted from 1 to 8 p.m. The nearest parking lot across from RFK stadium was overflowing by 2 p.m., and attendees were encouraged to take public transit or ride their bikes to the event. On a beautiful day last year for the event, even the bike racks filled up. 

Depending on the weather, the event that started with fewer than 300 attendees six years ago could get even bigger in the coming years. The island does have a maximum capacity of sorts, and last year organizers started turning bluegrass fans away in the late afternoon.

This year's event benefitted from articles in publications like The Washington Post, On Tap Magazine, and Washingtonian magazine, which placed the event on its "bucket list for 2015." 

Quarles said word about the festival continues to spread. And organizers hope more people get a taste for Kingman Island — and the Anacostia River — in the process.

"It's such a unique space from a festival standpoint, to get that kind of experience by hopping on the metro," rather than driving outside of town, she said. 

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About Whitney Pipkin
Whitney Pipkin, writes about food, agriculture and the environment. She lives in Alexandria, VA, and is a fellow of the Institute for Journalists of Natural resources and blogs at
Read more articles by Whitney Pipkin


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