The Walnut Valley Festival and National Flat Pick Guitar Championship is always the third weekend of September in Winfield, Kansas. Winfield is unique among festivals because it is as down home as it gets! As always, the music is world-class and the foot stompin’ non-stop.
2018 marks the 47th year for the Walnut Valley Festival and fans are gathered from all over the world. The purpose of the festival is to host the National Guitar Flat-Picking Championships and among aficionados is now referred to simply as “Winfield.”
The Festival has evolved from the original 2 days in 1972 to 5 days and has four stages performing simultaneously; a quality juried arts and crafts fair; musical workshops from the greats in flat-picking; and acoustic instrument contests. These days, over 30 acts and 8 contests are at the Festival, including 2 international contests, 5 national contests and 1 Walnut Valley contest.
We were in musical heaven since along with the National Flat Pick Championships and the International Finger Style Championships, Winfield hosts the International Autoharp, National Mandolin, National Mountain Dulcimer, National Bluegrass Banjo and the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championships. Contestants are from all 50 states and many foreign countries! Past winners include Mark O’Conner of Nashville who has won or placed in more of the contests than any other contestant. Alison Krauss of Nashville won the Fiddle Championship in 1974. The list of winners you recognize is long.
Over the years, those who have appeared on stage are: Lester Flatt, Doc & Merle Watson, Mark O’Conner, Alison Krauss, Mike Snider, Byron Berline, Dan Crary, Norman Blake, John Hartford, Tom Chapin, David Grisman, Merle Travis, Mike Cross, New Grass Revival, Hot Rise, Nickel Creek, David Holt, DeDannan (Irish), Tony Rice, Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Driftwood, Don Reno, Buck White, Red Clay Ramblers, Gamble Rogers, Joel Mabus, Bryan Bowers, Front Porch String Band, Robin & Linda Williams, The Dixie Chicks, Doug Dillard, Tom Paxton, and the crowd favorite who has never missed a Festival-John McCutcheon.
What is so cool about Walnut Valley is that it is participatory. In the original days, we wandered under the moon from campfire to campfire listening to the music fill the air into the early morning hours. Believe me, the music in the camps rivals the music on the stages!
These days, RVs form the campgrounds with Campers gathering with the same groups of musicians and fans year after year. The campsites are so sacred, the Festival sp0nsors a “land rush” weeks ahead of time for the favorite camping sites. There is a campsite contest so campers try to “out decorate” each other. Past camp names (and winners) include: The Geezers of Anarchy, Stillwater Camp, and Camp Ham. Camps boast the same names year after year and musicians countrywide consider Winfield a traditional homecoming.
So, whether you just want to listen, have an instrument handmade for you, practice with like-minded musicians or play in one of the contests, The Walnut Valley Festival is a pilgrimage we always try to make!
The Walnut Valley Festival is the third weekend of September every year at the Winfield Fairgounds. www.wvfest.com