Walnut Valley Festival
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The Walnut Valley Festival (generally referred to as "Winfield" by non-residents or simply "Bluegrass" to Winfield locals) is an acoustic music festival, held annually in Winfield, Kansas. The main genre of music is bluegrass, but other acoustic styles are represented. The festival is held on the Wednesday through Sunday that includes the third Saturday of September.
The first official "Walnut Valley Festival" was held in September 1972. It originated as a small folk festival started on the campus of Southwestern College in 1967. Founders of the first Walnut Valley Folk Festival, among others, included Sam Ontjes, Stuart Mossman and families. The entertainers included Jimmy Driftwood, Art Eskeridge, Glenda Bickell, Mance Lipscomb, Johnny Vandiver & Jo Wright, Harry Weldon, Poor Bill Miller, Doc Watson, Merle Watson, Charles Cloud, Shannon Singers, Vern & Ray, Pat and Victoria Garvey and the Revelators. Along with Friday and Saturday evening concerts, there was a guitar making demonstration, blues workshop, guitar style workshop and a gospel sing.
The Walnut Valley Folk Festival was created at a time when folk art was beginning to be recognized by pop-culture. The intent of the festival was to bring some of America's greatest professional and amateur talent to the Walnut Valley. For years to come, many individuals worked hard and dedicated much talent, time, effort and money to continue the tradition of bringing live folk and bluegrass music to the public. This was helpful in encouraging and creating a stage for local talent, as well. Eventually, the Walnut Valley Folk Festival evolved, with the help of Bob Redford and family, to the Walnut Valley Festival and changed its location to better suit its growing needs and the local community.
Four simultaneous stages and many impromptu venues, notably Stage 5, allow for a wide range of musical interests.
Besides the world-class paid performers, Winfield is known for its instrumental contests. The headline contest is the National Flat-pick Guitar Championship. Other contests include the National Bluegrass Banjo Championship, the National Hammer Dulcimer Championship, the National Mountain Dulcimer championship, the International Autoharp Championship, the International Fingerstyle Guitar Championship, and contests for fiddle and mandolin. The festival is also known for its lively audience, which has at times included the poet and guitarist, Chris Beard.
In 1999 the International Bluegrass Music Association named the Walnut Valley Festival as its first "Bluegrass Event of the Year" award winner.
Camping on the grounds of the Cowley County Fairgrounds opens one week before the Thursday when the stage acts begin. Even before that, many regular campers are in line for choice campsites. This event is known as the Land Rush after the Oklahoma Land Rush that happened nearby. Approximately half of Winfield campers bring a musical instrument, so the campgrounds are particularly conducive to all-night jamming. When camping, there are many people from different countries. In the 2006 Walnut Valley Festival, there were performers from Ireland and visitors from as far away as Japan.
There are typically 11,000-15,000 people that show up from Land Rush all the way to the final Sunday. People begin lining up over a month prior to the festival in order to get their line number for Land Rush. There have been many bands that began as "Jam Bands" in the camping grounds that have been invited to participate in the festival including Driven. Some of the best music at the festival can be found in the camp grounds. Kansas City based bluegrass band, Loaded Goat, is a good example of this. Many of the stage performers will wander through the camp grounds and play with those around a campfire or join a group of strangers playing together on the "Boulevard", the paved road running through the Pecan Grove Campgrounds. This area usually has people playing throughout the night and regardless of weather.
- "Walnut Valley Festival History" retrieved March 17, 2014
- Official Site for the Walnut Valley Festival
- Picker's Paradise, an unofficial fan site for the festival
- Aerial photograph of the festival in 2003
- Stage 5