MANSFIELD -- As soon as dates for the annual Mansfield Jamfest were announced earlier this year, Rita Rowe and Shirley Hamilton marked their calendars for the occasion.
The friends, who consider themselves sisters at heart, have traveled from Lima for the summertime bluegrass and country music festival since its inception.
This year was no different. They arrived in Mansfield on Sunday evening, intending to camp at the Richland County Fairgrounds -- the festival’s venue -- all week long.
“We go every year because we just like bluegrass music,” Rowe said Thursday afternoon while tapping her foot along to music by Echo Valley, a sibling band from Western Pennsylvania.
“It’s the number one music for us,” Hamilton chimed in.
The two friends are among possibly 2,000 people visiting Richland County for the music festival this weekend. Organizer Chris Smith estimated crowds have topped 1,000 at past festivals, and he believes this year’s momentum indicates drastic growth.
“Most of the crowd isn’t here yet. They come in for the weekend, but this morning I’ve already counted 170 campers,” Smith said Thursday afternoon.
The festival kicked off Tuesday and continues through Saturday evening with more than a dozen bluegrass bands, including several national acts. The Grascals and Flatt Lonesome will perform Friday evening, and Sideline and Claybank will take the stage Saturday evening to wrap up the festivities.
“I love the fact that it grows every year,” said Marcus Childers of Willard.
He’s attended the event for the past four years to help Smith’s band, Caney Creek, set up and tear down.
“It’s such an awesome family event. I wouldn’t miss it. It’s just so much fun,” Childers said.
Rowe and Hamilton echoed those sentiments.
“Bluegrass people, they are always so good to you, to each other,” Hamilton said.
“We just love being here,” Rowe said.
The Mansfield Jamfest was formerly known as the “Helping Families with Cancer Benefit Bluegrass Festival" and was led by Smith's father-in-law.
Despite the name change, the event's purpose remains the same -- to give back to families in the Mansfield community.
Proceeds from the event are donated to Project One Recovery Road and to the family of a Mansfield Middle School boy, who was diagnosed with t-cell acute lymphoblastic leukemia last November.
Eighth grader, Jaiden has battled pancreatitis during chemotherapy, and his mother is a full-time student, Smith said. He withheld the boy’s last name for the family’s privacy.
The Mansfield Jamfest continues through Saturday evening at the Richland County Fairgrounds. Tickets can be purchased at the entrance. To learn more, visit mansfieldjamfest.com.