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Rain Doesn’t Deter ‘Land Rush’ for Choice Campsites

September 14, 2009 by   - () Leave a Comment

Muddy campgrounds have never deterred the bluegrass fans who flock to Winfield, Kan., every September for the Walnut Valley Festival. So when a 19-foot surge in the Walnut River Sept. 10 forced the postponement of the “land rush” campsite grab until Saturday, organizers took it in stride.

“There may be a few areas that are a little mushy, a little soft, that people may not be able to camp in,” said Rex Flottman, media coordinator for the festival. Most camping areas, though, should remain reasonably dry, the festival website said.

That was good news for the folks staked out in the Pecan Grove occupying 550 “units” — tents and RVs waiting to move to coveted spots close to performance stages. In the well-rehearsed rhythm of the festival, a two-day wait for land rush meant little more than making temporary campsites more cozy, according The Wichita Eagle.

The five-day Walnut Valley Festival, or simply “Winfield” — a jamboree of fingerpicking, fiddling, strumming, hammering and harmonizing – begins Wednesday evening and concludes Sept. 20.

The festival this year features 29 nationally and internationally known acoustic music acts playing on four stages. Also, dozens of instrumentalists will compete in eight contests for more than $96,000 worth of prizes; and round-the-clock jam sessions will fill the air with music at campsites and on two satellite stages.

In addition, 76 artists and craftsmakers will display their work; music equipment vendors, instrument makers and music-company reps will be on hand; and food stalls will be cooking everything from barbecue to kettle corn to chili pie.

Between 9,000 and 10,000 people are expected to attend the festival, down a couple of thousand from past years — probably because of the slow economy, Flottman said.

“Some folks are saying they’ve been putting a little extra money aside throughout the year, making provisions to still be able to be here,” Flottman said.

But for the 37th year, the music will play on.

Performers include returning crowd favorites Marley’s Ghost, Stephen Bennett, Beppe Gambetta, Tom Chapin and John McCutcheon. 

“When we look at hiring we do it in a threefold operation,” Flottman explained. “We start out looking at who we want to bring back from the previous year’s festival that people enjoyed the most. Then we look at ones that haven’t been here for a year or two and work on bringing a few of those back in.

“And then we look at bringing in a percentage of new ones.”

Two bands new to the festival who stand out to Flottman are The Infamous Stringdusters, a sextet — “They’re disgustingly young for as talented as they are,” Flottman said — and Mountain Heart, a “newgrass” sextet that made its first appearance at Winfield last year.

“But with all the problems we had with the river coming up last year a lot of folks didn’t get a chance to see them,” Flottman said. “They’re probably about as close to a rock and roll band that you’re going to find in bluegrass. They’ve opened for Lynyrd Skynyrd; they’ve played a lot of big gigs. And they’re a great group of guys.”

Even with soggy campsites and a sluggish economy, the festival exerts an almost magical pull on musicians and fans. After one trip to the music city that springs up on the banks of the Walnut River every September, folks tend to return, year after year.

“More than once we’ve had people tell us that they quit their job because they couldn’t get off to come,” Flottman said. That’s loyalty that neither rain nor a rising river can dampen.

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