Bluegrass festival targets locals, tourists
The River Falls Chamber of Commerce will present the 3rd annual Bluegrass and Roots Music Festival April 5-7. It includes at least a dozen artists playing 14 different venues, with many free performances throughout the weekend.
Hear traditional bluegrass, roots, Cajun and mixes of music; attend workshops to explore the basics of ukulele or banjo; witness or compete in the flatpicking or the new-this-year singer/songwriter contests; join in an open jam; or come to an antiques event where people bring their treasures to be valued.
Festival committee leader Chris Silver, also a local musician and teacher, said about the event, "Word is spreading among bluegrass fans."
He heard from people last year who'd come from around the Midwest such as Madison and Rochester, as well as from farther -- Kansas, North Carolina and others.
"Festival attendance (last year) was estimated to be at about 3,000," said Silver.
He said the workshops proved popular since they're free and taught by seasoned professionals who are either performing at the festival or teach regularly in the area. Most workshop students appreciated a chance to learn bluegrass basics.
He said the festival added for this year a ukulele clinic as well as open mike and jam sessions.
The Midwest Guitar Flatpicking contest returns again this year. Silver said last year's winner, who competed against nine others, went on to win a national flatpicking competition in Winfield, Kan.
Also new to the festival is a singer-songwriter contest that gives budding artists a chance to show and sing their stuff. Anyone entering must write and perform the music themselves and cannot be signed to a record or third-party deal.
A total of 12 entrants will be judged on originality, arrangement and melody. Contestants may not have backup singers or musicians, and the top three winners get a cash prize.
Silver said response to the contest has been enthusiastic, "We're almost full as far as registration for that contest."
While the festival secured a tourism grant last year, it focused this year on securing sponsorships so that the festival can become self-sufficient and continue in the future.
The Bluegrass Festival committee was pleased to have Family Fresh step up as the premiere sponsor of the festival; it's also providing space for one of the workshops being held.
"We're hoping the sponsorships will increase as the visibility of the festival increases."
Silver said the committee -- comprised of members Tom Bentz, Jen Burleigh-Bentz, Cedric Ellingson, Brian Fish, Dustin Hanson, Toni Hinz, Joleen Larson, Evy Nerbonne and Jeff Wesley -- heard a lot of good feedback last year.
People liked River Falls and its small-town feel. They said it was friendly and welcoming; guests also complimented the local taverns that provide the venues.
"Just River Falls itself was rated very highly," said Silver.
He said the varieties of music at the festival are growing more popular and he hopes just as many local people will come and enjoy it as do tourists and out-of-towners.
Silver emphasizes, "You don't have to be a diehard bluegrass fan to enjoy the music at the festival."
The festival's main-stage performances take place at Junior's Bar and Grill -- two musicians on Friday night, including hometown opener Chris Silver, and two musicians on Saturday night.
- Friday, April 5 features Chris Silver at 8:30 p.m. and The Greencards at 9 p.m.
- Saturday, April 6 features the Goldblooms at 9 p.m. and Pert' Near Sandstone at 10 p.m.
The festival website gives specific times and locations for all the weekend performances, most of which are free.
Other performing artists include the Fish Heads, Brian Wickland, the Dead Horses, Rush River Ramblers, Jumbo Ya Ya, the Ditch Lillies, the Platte Valley Boys, Boys n' The Barrel and the High 48s. Many of them are back for a second or third year in a row. The local venues where these artists will appear and perform include Johnnie's Bar, Coach's, Shooter's Pub, the South Fork Café, Corner Saloon, Bo's N' Mine, Mainstreeter, the Lazy River Saloon and the West Wind Supper Club.
Tickets to the paid performances cost $25 each per night, or both nights for $40. Several local hotels offer a free or discounted ticket to one or both performances with overnight hotel stay.
People can buy tickets online or in person at the chamber office during business hours 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., 214 N. Main St. and at the customer-service desk of Family Fresh, 303 S. Main St.
Silver says the festival's website and Facebook page provide many details and more information about the weekend's events. Visit www.riverfallsbluegrass.com.