Walnut Valley Festival
Winfield, KS - September 2021
Going Back Home
After last year’s Winfield at home/live stream we were incredibly excited to be back in the Cowley County Fairgrounds among the walnut trees. Two years out, COVID was still fresh on our minds as we planned for the trip and we were happy to find that the festival organizers took things seriously and had many precautions in place to keep attendees safe.
Zach arrived to camp on Saturday. The first official day of music being the following Wednesday, this allowed for a bit of rest and relaxation leading up to the start of it all. Those first mornings started with familiar rituals, pour over coffee, maybe reading or a jog. Being alone in camp meant a lot of time was spent listening to “Campground Radio” (the official Walnut Valley Festival radio station 105.7) doing crosswords, reading, writing, and carving; all of those things that, for him, epitomize “slow life”. And when the afternoon sun became too much to bear, a bike ride around the shady groves helped to quell the heat. Back in camp, early evenings meant time for food and making a little music of his own. Around 8pm each night, Stage 11 would start up for open mic performances. Although no headliners would perform here before Wednesday, it was a perfect way to end the evenings…musicians and storytellers, an old camping chair, stars.
This probably applies to music festivals all over the world, especially those that involve camping, but there is something uniquely special about seeing an empty field of grass slowly transform into an immersive and eclectic neighborhood of friendly strangers. This world of imagination, changing each moment. Inspired and intentional while playing host to random chaos.
Speaking of random chaos and friendly strangers, on Zach's second morning he went up to the "showers" which are nothing more than two large semi trailers converted into about 40 shower stalls. What started years ago as a much smaller operation has grown into an expectation for many of us Winfielders, that is, a couple bucks gets you a warm shower. There was no line this morning, being so early in the festival. Zach walked up, towel and toiletries in hand, and offered his payment. The guy running this booth was a bit older than middle-aged and had long, shiney-blonde hair in a classic mullet. Money was exchanged and a little small talk took place. Turns out there wasn't change for large bills, his cohort hadn't yet arrived with the money. Next thing Zach knows the wonderfully mulleted man is handing him $200 in large bills plus $5 bucks. The proprietor made an offer, knowing that Zach planned a trip to town after his shower. "If you stopped off at a bank and got me $200 in small bills I'll let you shower free for the rest of the festival... Also can you get me a gallon of chocolate milk?" "Do you want my ID or anything as collateral?" Zach asked. "No, that's ok. You seem trustworthy." An hour later Zach had showered, run to a bank and the grocery store and earned himself free showers for the week. A series of very unlikley events by most standards but just another day at Winfield.
Seeing Friends and Family
Friends began to arrive to camp on Tuesday, Emily and one boy (the other had a cold [COVID negative]) arrived Wednesday evening and by Friday afternoon our campsite was 20 strong. We met our neighboring camp and made a couple friends we can’t wait to catch up with next year. They even supplied us with a few tomatoes and zucchini they brought from their home garden to cook up in camp.
As always we enjoyed catching up with our old friends as well, ending each night around the camp fire. Some great new bands graced the stage along side old favorites including John McCutcheon, Tom Chapin with Michael Mark, with Linda Tilton providing sign language for multiple performers. Steel Wheels were as energetic as ever, and we loved hearing Pretend Friends again and can’t wait to continue seeing them around the festival scene. The Gothard Sisters helped to fill some unexpected time slot vacancies and did a fantastic job.
New Ideas and Old Traditions
For the times when the crowds got too big for our comfort the festival even had a live stream of the main stage available to all paying ticket holders which meant we could sit in camp and still hear what was going on in the grandstands.
Our camp meal this year was not the traditional display of meals, drinks, and desserts provided by generation one and generation two. Instead we opted for a group lunch where everyone provided their own food. On that COVID safe note, all of this year's festival was outdoors and we felt safe the whole time. We wore masks in the grandstands and kept our distance. However, Friday afternoon, the boy that was able to come down started getting the sniffles and although we got him tested immediately in town and he was negative, he and Emily headed home early so he could rest.
As we’ve said in past blogs, every Winfield is different and this year was no exception. It did a wonder on Zach’s well-being to be back in a place so much like a second home. We were glad 3/4 of us got to be there but really missed having our whole family together.
WVF 2022 will be the 50th Anniversary of the festival and I’m sure great things are in store. Until then we have many other adventures and festivals to experience and we’re excited for every one of them!