The annual Walnut Valley Festival, now over 50 years old, is known for several unique qualities
- Four stages (Stages I, II, III, IV), with sets from over 30 performers, providing 200+ hours of music over 4 days, with nationally and internationally recognized performers. Music on offer includes Folk, Bluegrass, Americana, Western Swing, Celtic and many other styles of music
- One dedicated contest stage, where you can watch contestants vie for national and international championships in Finger Style Guitar, Flat Pick Guitar, Bluegrass Banjo, Old Time Fiddle, Mandolin, Mountain Dulcimer, Hammer Dulcimer, and Autoharp
- Large campground just a 5- minute walk from interior stages, with plenty of campground jamming including some featured on campground stages
- A juried arts and crafts fair, with all handmade items, as well as representation from some of the biggest instrument makers and music shops
- A score of activities to delight the whole family, including Feisty’s Music Camp for Kids, Andy May’s Acoustic Kids, Kid Crafts at the art fair, and lots of other kid-friendly activities
- On-grounds food choices include items common to fairs and carnivals, as well as a farmers market within walking distance of your camp. Picker’s Pub lets attendees enjoy local brews while listening to music on Stage I
WVF has a large camping area, with areas for rough camping as well as electric. The festival is known for its high quality of campground picking, with many impromptu jam sessions continuing well into the night (or next morning). Don’t be surprised to see performers come off the main stages and head to the campgrounds for a jam session or perhaps a performance on a campground stage.
There are two major campgrounds, each with its own character and camps: West and Pecan. West has many areas with electric hookups for your camper or RV, but one area to the north that is entirely rough camping (and a bit quieter). Pecan also has electric hookups and a great deal of variety, but it is known for a lively nightlife and has more campground stages. Both West and Pecan have many groups that camp in the same spot, year after year, and many bear camp names and are decorated to match.
Because attendees often want to camp in the same spot each year, there are many who move into the campground well ahead of the official start of festival, on Land Rush day (usually the Thursday BEFORE the festival begins. People start lining up even before Land Rush, to be assured of getting ‘their’ spot.
That doesn’t mean that YOU have to do that. There are many great spots available for you to pitch a tent to even pull up in your camper after the Festival officially begins. Just be aware that after the start of Festival it becomes more difficult to find a spot with easy access to electric.
There are a variety of services to help those who are camping on grounds. Every morning the local Masons makes a round of the campgrounds, selling coffee and donuts off the back of a trailer. Others make circuits selling firewood and ice, so you have to keep an eye out (and your ears open) so as not to miss them when they come through. Port-a-pots are placed strategically throughout the grounds, and there is also a service for pumping out your camper or RV when it is full. Pump request sheets are at Ticket Trailer (where you first enter) and Info Booth (middle of grandstands). You can also find similar forms to alert us about electrical issues. Finally, there are shower facilities on offer, as well as golf cart rentals for getting around. There are also people movers bringing people in from the campgrounds, as well as Festicab (a bit like Uber, but for festivals), so a golf cart isn’t necessary.
WHAT IS HAPPENING?!?!
It is easy to find out the news of the day, including the schedule for both interior stages and happenings in the campground. As festival approaches, many updates and announcements can be found on our official Facebook page. Like most festivals, we have a program, with info on all the performers hired for this year, and also handy info on camping, stage schedules, and finding your way around grounds. There is a daily newsletter, WVA Voice, that can be found in many sites around grounds, but for sure in our Info Booth (another great source of information). WVF is one of the few festivals with its own campground radio station (FM 105.7), playing songs from this year’s entertainers but also interviews with featured artists, and contest champions. Finally, there is a WVF Mobile App, which lets you customize your own schedule for watching all the artists you want to see, navigate to the food vendor or craft booth that you are interested in, as well as keep up on the latest news and happenings.
LINKS: Program; Campground Radio
SAFETY AND SECURITY
Read through the rules for camping, in the program and on our website, which are necessary to keep everyone safe in a large campground. Please pay particular attention to Fire Safety precautions, and make sure not to block marked fire lanes in setting up your camp. No fireworks, no fire dancing, no unauthorized drones, no gas-powered ATVs/UTVs, no animals.
As with any concert or large event, there is safety in numbers. Our security team advises attendees to always try to have at least one buddy with you as you explore the campgrounds. This is especially true for women.
Check the program for the phone number to reach our security crew, who ensure safety out in the campgrounds, in the parking areas, and on the midway. Call 911 to report crimes or serious accidents or injuries.
LINKS: Campground Rules
ADVICE FROM WINFIELD VETERANS
- Post your plans to come to WVF on your FB or social media, and see if you have friends that have been at Winfield. Chances are at least some of your friends have attended. Plan to attend or camp with them if you can. Winfield is always more fun when you have a veteran to show you the ropes.
- If camping, once you have set up your tent or camper, record the location on your phone, maybe take a picture find landmarks to mark the location
- Pack to dress in layers, you can generally count on some really hot weather, some really cold weather. And rain. So bring some mud boots along, as well as an umbrella. Make sure to bring a lawn chair, as many stages have bleachers to sit in, but lawn chairs are more comfortable. Be sure to keep your lawn chairs with you—we don’t allow unattended chairs to save spots in front of stages.
- Wear sensible shoes, and maybe invest in one of those headlamps, especially if you are going to be walking around at night. There are hoses, wires, tent stakes, ruts, old fire pits, instruments laid by the wayside, and lots of other obstacles in the campground, so you must be careful to not twist your ankle or stub your toe.
- Leave the animals at home. Most festivals preclude bringing your pets, and so does Winfield. Service (not support) animals are allowed.
- WVF uses wristbands for everyone except really young children. If you have a job where you can’t wear one at work (and you are camping for several days), you can check with Ticket Trailer to get them cut off, then put back on when you return.
- If you like to jam, be aware of jam etiquette. LINK As an onlooker, whether you are watching a jam or someone on stage, try not to talk loudly through sets. Everyone does it occasionally, but strive not to constantly be engaged in conversation while a someone is playing. It is just not polite.
- If you buy some tie-dyed clothing, and you will, be sure and keep it separate or in plastic bags when you put it in laundry basket. Otherwise, if clothing is damp, you might end up tie-dying your work uniform.
- Check out Feisty Music Camp for Kids, and also the kids crafts that are run out of the crafts booth. Feisty Music camp is on Friday and Saturday, and is in 30-minute segments. It is free, you do not have to register, and kids can take in one activity, leave, then come back. Adults must stay in the camp while their kids are there, and there are always nice friends to make if you are sitting on the perimeter. The shows and activities can be really fun to watch for parents, too, and there have been several times when a REALLY FAMOUS performer makes an appearance at the Feisty Music Camp.
- Another cool thing is to take your kids to see other kids on stage doing their thing, and that is what Andy May’s Acoustic Kids is all about. If your kids already play an instrument, consider enrolling them in the program, so they can have a chance to shine on stage LINK
- There is a tradition of having first-time WVF attendees wear a white shirt, and everyone they encounter gets to write something on it. It is NOT required, so feel free to say no to this treatment if it is not for you. If you do decide to take part, and wear the shirt, just be aware you have to be okay with what folks write on it.
- Most entertainers at Winfield will finish a set and then sell their CDs or swag near the stage. They are VERY approachable, especially if you say nice things about their songs or their performance. Take advantage.
- Spend some time watching contests. These are some of the folks you will probably see in popular bands performing in future. For now, be amazed at their skill.
- Be open to making new friends, and feel free to ask questions.
Jam Etiquette, written by Ernie Hill
The Walnut Valley Festival (WVF) is world famous for jam sessions that continue around the clock throughout the entire festival. Indeed, with WVF being host to eight prestigious acoustic instrument contests, one can easily encounter a champion picker or two hanging with a circle of friends in the campgrounds. You will even see some of the booked performers jamming deep into the dawn’s early light. Jams vary from contest conscious, intense pickers seeking trophies and fame, to yearly reunions of old friends who will gladly welcome you into their camp to share whatever you have to offer in the way of a song. Most are welcoming to beginners who are looking to hone their skills, but it never hurts to check.
Here are a few tips to help you find the right jam and have a great jam experience.
Read the room
There are basically two types of gatherings, and you can choose which you like best. Song circle: a group of folks sharing songs amongst each other and whoever is around to listen, with or without instrumental accompaniment. Pickin’ jam: Here it’s all about the picking, with the focus being on passing instrumental ‘leads’ around the group. There are sometimes groups that combine a little bit of both–embrace the grey.
Tune, tune, tune
Tune before you leave your campsite. If you find that you are not in tune with the particular jam where you feel most comfortable, step away far enough to hear the music, and make the necessary adjustments without interrupting. If you don’t have a tuner, many of the venders sell them. You can also download tuning apps for your smartphone, many of which are free.
To thine own abilities be true
Roam around and find the level of picking and singing that best suits your capability. You know what you can do and what level you have or have not yet achieved. Remember, everyone is here to make music and it should always be fun, but not everyone wants to pick with everyone else. There are perfectly friendly people who are very serious about picking with friends they only see once a year at WVF and may have a limited time to re-hash and re-live their best pickin’ moments. Don’t feel jilted, rather, listen and enjoy and walk away having learned something.
So many Questions
Many beginners enter the jam arena thinking they will absorb each and every technique and nuance by watching very closely, and even interrupting a song to ask a question… “What is your favorite kind of guitar? What kind of pick do you use? How many hours a day do you practice? How many guitars do you own and what kind? Will you go slower so I can write down the chords? Got a light?” GRRRRR! Wait until the song is over before you ask the name, key and tuning of the particular song. And always ask if it’s okay to record audio or video.
Wait your turn. Listen to everyone else instead of thinking about what you are going to play (this one is tough!). Check camp etiquette. Are they non-smokers? Are they playing only gospel music, only bluegrass, is this a John Prine jam? Am I darn tootin’ sure I can take the lead at this speed or will I de-rail this train? Ask to join a circle. “Is this an open jam?” “Mind if I join?” And remember,…for later, “would you mind showing me how you did that?”
Avoid big jams
Circle jams pass the tune around. Remember the average song is about three minutes long and if the jam you choose has twenty or more pickers, well, you can do the math. If you are shy, try standing alone in your own camp, or in some other suitable area and just start pickin’ and singing. At the Walnut Valley Festival, it won’t be very long until you are joined by wandering musicians and … there you go!
Have a good time
This is the most important–enjoy yourself and make sure others enjoy your contribution to the jam.