Lovegrass Music Festival:
The Last Free Festival
We heard about Lovegrass through a mutual friend whose band was playing this Central Kansas festival. It was to be the 4th annual event after a hiatus in 2020 and we were beyond excited to get back out with a cooler and lawn chairs and listen to some live music.
Lovegrass is held during the second week of August at Wilson Lake in Sylvan Grove, Kansas. It takes place at the namesake Lovegrass campground located on the south side of the lake, which is north of I-70 between Wilson and Lucas Kansas.
Lovegrass is listed as non-profit and states their goals are
“…to bring arts to a rural community, enhance the quality of life through cultural experiences, build partnerships with other entities, and to create substantial economic impact to North Central Kansas by hosting an annual free music festival.”
They host multiple events throughout the year bringing in local, regional, and national talent, not to mention the three day Lovegrass Music Festival which is free.
If you choose to camp like we did there is a fee associated with the State Park’s campsite but it’s minimal and a very small price to pay for such a fun weekend. You can book your campsite (and you better do it early) at Reserve America or you can show up and hope to get into the Premier Camping area which is strictly “first come, first served”.
We arrived, so did the rain
We decided to arrive on Thursday after a short day of work and a decently long drive to the lake. There’s a big jam Thursday night with the main concerts on Friday and Saturday evening. We set up just in time for a cool evening followed by severe thunderstorms which we’re happy to say Taos managed without any trouble. Events were cancelled for the night so we enjoyed an easy dinner to the sounds of rain then headed to bed to rest before our first full day at Lovegrass Music Festival.
Friday morning we woke up excited. The air was fresh after the night’s rain and we had so much to look forward to. We made our coffee and pulled out the camp chairs. The organized music doesn’t start until about 5pm each day which allows for plenty of time to do the “other” things one does at music festivals without any fear of missing out. The “other” stuff today involved playing a little music, exploring the immediate area, reading, and writing. After coffee we got the bikes out and rode around the campground. If you’ve never been to Wilson Lake we can’t recommend it enough. The landscape is like nothing we would have expected from central Kansas. It almost felt like walking through the Southwest with the red soil and rocky overhanging paths.
If the area seemed like something out of this world then the weather was our ruby slippers. The temperatures soared and we were hot…Kansas hot. No a/c in the pop up, we relied on fans, shade, and cool rags. A lot of campers spent time in the lake in the afternoon to stay cool and in retrospect this may have been a big part of the daytime experience we missed. We did our best to stay hydrated, read, journaled and napped the afternoon away. Finally it was time for music.
Around 5pm we got a bag packed with snacks and drinks, loaded the camp chairs on the bikes and set off down the road to the festival area. About half a mile later we arrived and easily found a spot to call our own. Nearer to the stage was a bit crowded for us but the space opens up as you move back and we felt safely distanced. One of the great moments of the evening comes when the sun finally sets behind the big tree that frames the stage. Hours of heat dissipate in seconds to the sounds of music and nature as the sun dips out of view.
That night we saw Foggy Memory Boys, Konza Swamp Band, and Kyle Tuttle Band. We could go on and on about the incredibly high quality of music. Any of these groups could have filled any time slot. Kyle Tuttle closed the stage out and let’s just say he was phenomenal; untethered energetic entertainer one minute and jam band vibes the next.
The next morning
As we did the previous day we awoke with excitement but also a healthy respect for the penetrating heat that would soon overwhelm the campground. We are always on the lookout for a new hike and decided our plans for the day would include a hike around Wilson Lake in the morning and then as the temperature began to rise we would jump in the Subaru and explore the neighboring towns of Wilson and Lucas, KS.
We remembered seeing an interesting trailhead on the way in and found a cool hike along the lake in and out of some small canyons. Although we were only a few hours from home, the topography was so different from our part of Kansas and we saw some beautiful wild flowers.
Day trip to town
One of Emily’s big requests for this trip was to check out a regional folk art attraction in Lucas KS, the Garden of Eden. Built by an eccentric Civil War veteran in the early 20th century, the Garden of Eden is a concrete megalith complete with 150 limestone and concrete sculptures, including 15 cement trees and a mausoleum. If you’re in the area with a little extra time, it is worth the stop just to get a glimpse inside a radical artistic mind.
From Lucas we headed south to Wilson, another small Kansas town with a unique claim to fame. This area of Central Kansas was a popular settlement for Central Europeans and the town of Wilson has a large Czech population. Wilson holds a Czech festival every year, and the town is home to the world’s largest Czech egg. This thing is in the middle of a vacant lot and stands 20 feet tall. It has a Facebook page and everything (search World’s Largest Czech Egg).
After looking at the egg for a while we wandered around the tiny downtown and found another Easter egg (haha, pun intended). Wilson is also home to the Midland Railroad Hotel, a popular stop on the Union Pacific Railroad in the early 1900s, which happens to feature in a key scene in Emily’s favorite childhood movie, Paper Moon. Check it out if you haven’t seen it!
We beat the heat Saturday afternoon and saw some interesting and unexpected local sights, but of course we really came out for the music so we were glad when the sun started to set and we could settle in for another evening of bluegrass.
Wrapping things up
Saturday night’s lineup had us captivated from the start. Unfit Wives opened things up followed by Pretend Friend out of Wichita, KS. Closing things for the night was Chain Station who played an unforgettable set and wrapped up a remarkably fun music festival. Sunday morning was uneventful, we struck camp, picked up and headed home.
As we reminisce on the trip we can’t help but appreciate how entirely non-commercial the experience was. Of course the bands could sell their music and other gear but that was the extent of it. No tickets to buy or reserved seating, just arrive and bring your own chair. It was music played and music enjoyed.
We look forward to many more years of Lovegrass.