When summer vacation ends and back-to-school plans kick in, my thoughts affectionately turn to “Winfield.” For so many, this one word moniker for the Walnut Valley Festival (WVF) in Winfield, KS is synonymous with great music on stages and in campgrounds around the clock. For my family the WVF, which occurs annually in middle to late September, has been a cherished time for reunions with friends and family, camping, great food, an easy-going time of retreat, renewal, and making memories that last a lifetime. Anticipating its 44th year, Winfield is adored by ~15,000 people annually that flock to the Cowley County Fairgrounds. Some come early for “Land Rush” to stake their coveted claim along the shady banks of the Walnut River and invest weeks of vacation, and others come for a day of stage acts, workshops and to enjoy one of the international championship competitions featuring flat pick/finger style guitar, mandolin, banjo, hammer/mountain dulcimer, auto harp, and fiddle.
My connection to Winfield began in 1998 when a grad school graduation gift of festival passes from my uncle/aunt Royce and Marge started a running 17-year love affair with this experience. Listening to music with my dad, visits to my uncle’s Buzzard’s Roost Camp, witnessing epic wee-hour jams in the Pecan Grove, the flood-displaced year at Winfield Lake, planning meals, and hanging out with friends, have all profoundly shaped my Winfield memories. My boys have attended nearly every year of their lives and their experiences have included everything from long toddler naps under my chair at the finger style championships, ukulele workshops, kid jams around the campfire, running down the levee, racing the ever-present train, playing catch on the Stage Two hill, and more. They hold the Winfield experience up there with Christmas and 4th of July.
This time of the year also brings great anticipation for a new season of the Dyck Arboretum Prairie Window Concert Series (PWCS). Coordination of the PWCS fell into my lap in 2011 and in spite of my lack of experience with concert promotion, the Winfield experience has made coordination of the PWCS a labor of love. Winfield has had a profound effect on the artists I invite to the PWCS as it did for my predecessor, Miner Seymour and his brainchild, the Old Settlers Inn in Moundridge. Memorable performances over the years at Winfield from Mike Cross, Tim O’Brien and Darrell Scott, The Wilders, The Greencards, The Steel Wheels, Tommy Emmanuel, Hot Club of Cowtown, The Infamous Stringdusters, The Waybacks, and many more have certainly shaped my musical preferences towards Americana and roots music featuring masterful instrumentals and tight harmonies. Half of the featured artists in the coming 2015-16 PWCS season have strong ties to Winfield.
When the monarchs fill the air, and the Maximilian sunflowers blaze with yellow, it is time for my family to migrate south to Winfield. Whether I see you there or at the PWCS (our surrogate Winfield), I know we’ll be enjoying great music together and making memories.