Walnut Valley Festival

Cover designed by Kent Smith, Lawrence KS smittytown.com


A Mix of Bluegrass, Oldtime and Folk Music played from the Heart and Soul

by Chuck and Sandi Millar from Lesson Pros


Ever since our girls were little, we’ve been invited to come down from Minnesota to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. We’ve seen our friend’s eyes light up when they’ve talked about the festival, but it falls every year on the third weekend in September. The festival is around the time our kids start the new school year and it never worked out, but this year we had the dream become a reality.

Now that our children are grown and off to college, it was one of the first things to check off the bucket list. For a music festival that was 667 miles away and 9.5 hours of drive time, the family-friendly Walnut Valley Festival was everything we imagined the event to be and so much more we couldn’t have dreamed of.


The first night we arrived, our eyes were a little big after seeing how massive the festival was and all the people that were there already. We found out later that the attendance is typically around 10,000 to 13,000.

People come from miles around, show up a week or two before the event and line up for what is called Land Rush. They park their cars, trucks, campers, and trailers in an orderly fashion and wait for the festival staff to open the gates. Everyone wants their same spot year after year.

It was dark by the time we arrived, and there were lines of people streaming in with their campers. The staff was on their game, trying to direct multiple folks at the same time while getting the right people to assist us with our tickets. They were very helpful as they taxied our RV into an electric spot so we could use our air conditioner. We were really glad to be plugged in because it was going to be a hot weekend.

After we were settled in with the RV parked, got electric hooked-up, and our slides out, we set off for our first nights’ adventure to get the lay of the land.


At the Walnut Valley Festival, there are two main camping areas, and first, we ventured off to Pecan Grove. Music was already being performed on a multitude of campsite small stages mixed in with campers, colorful lights, costumes, and people. There were huge groups of folks huddled around, listening to all of the performers. Swarms of golf carts puttered about as it was the preferred method of transportation in the vast festival grounds.

Next was West Camping, a more traditional area for festival-goers. There was still a lot of folks jamming, but there was a difference between the look and feel of the two different camping areas. Pecan Grove seemed to be home to an overall younger crowd and we heard a lot of string band/jam grass being played as an overarching theme to go along with the glitz and glamour of the colorful lights and regalia. What we experienced when we walked through West camping was more of an older crowd with traditional bluegrass, contemporary bluegrass, and a little bit of swing being played.


A unique part of the Walnut Valley Festival was that there were fun and crazy themes for each of the camps. The camps had whimsical names like Carp Camp, Chuck and the Chicks, Nowhere (which turned into Now Here when the words are divided), Next to Nowhere, Easy Pickin, Flamingo Camp, The Middle of Nowhere, Camp Cowabunga, No-Mad, Bluegrass Chicks Rule and a huge array of others. A contest was held this year for the best camp, and the entries didn’t disappoint.

Winners for the Best Campground
Geezers of Anarchy

1st Place – Geezers of Anarchy
Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

Lit on the Low Road

2nd Place – Lit on the Low Road
Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

Skalley Wagun

3rd Place – Skally Wagun
Photo by Walnut Valley Festival


Walnut Valley Festival blended today’s modern technology with the charm of music from long ago by offering a Festival App to use on your smartphone. This is where we found the Schedules, Performers, Workshops Contests, Vendors, Campgrounds, Do and See in Winfield, Kids Activities, Navigation, Festival Goers, Notifications, Feedback and Information, List of Campsite Names and their Location, etc.

One of the things we enjoyed most about this app was that we could create our own schedule of events that we wanted to see. The schedule part of the app was divided into parts. Full Lineup, My Schedule, Stage I, II, III, and IV. With four stages having music all day. It’s tricky to mentally put together an itinerary of all the bands and contests you’d like to attend and this was such a great way to keep track of what we wanted to do each day. Every festival can learn something from this Walnut Valley Festival App.

Walnut Valley App


The Walnut Valley Festival has a Facebook Page.

While at the festival, we were always checking out the new posts. There’s so much going on it was hard to see everything. At night we’d make sure to check the Facebook Page to see what’s new so we didn’t miss out on any unknown fun. The Facebook page was a great way to see all the posts and pictures from the staff, fans, and bands.


There is a design contest for the Walnut Valley Festival Posters/Brochures/Magazine Cover…Brilliant! This year’s poster design alone would make any want to come to this festival! Amazing talent!
The 48th Walnut Valley Festival poster was designed by Kent Smith, in Lawrence KS smittytown.com Congratulations! Well Done.

Walnut Valley Art Cover


It was pretty warm out the next day, so we hunkered down in our air-conditioned camper. As the heat of the day subsided, we got our instruments ready and headed out to jam that night. We ended up in Pecan Grove jamming with one of our long time friends, Ryan Kimm, and a friend of his Brandon, who is a fantastic songwriter. The jam was small, intimate, and the music was great.

Ryan had a videographer there, filming for some sort of a documentary while we were all playing music together. We can’t wait to view the film and it will be fun to see if we made the cut when it goes to production. The second day of our festival experience couldn’t have been better. Good times!


After the jam wrapped up, Chuck and I started looking for a place that we could have our “Midnight Jam.” The Midnight Jam term comes from a magical night of music played at the Bean Blossom Festival in Indiana years ago.

It was under a moonlit sky, in a grove where the air was cool damp, and still. We just played music to each other and it was quiet enough that we could hear our guitars and voices echoed through the trees. Ever since that night, we always try to have at least one moment like that at each festival.


After walking around for a bit, we ended in front of Stage 5 (another side stage in the Pecan Grove area), where there was music being performed earlier. While there was still a lot of people around, Stage 5 was a nice area of quiet and peace amongst the other larger jams being played off in the distance. We played a few songs and were joined by a bass player, Dave. He added a nice foundation and sang a few funny tunes that we’ve never heard before.

It turns out Dave is in charge of Stage 5 at the Walnut Valley Festival and we talked about how they run it, which was rather interesting and very clever. Basically, everyone puts their band name in a hat and they draw names. There was no shortage of people to play so all the time slots got filled and then there was a waiting list. Dave put our names on the list but there weren’t enough cancellations for us to perform. It would have been really fun to play Stage 5! Maybe next year.

The ambiance of Pecan Grove added to the enchantment of the night and helped transform our experience into something more than music. It certainly added a dreamy and mystical depth to the definition of our Stage 5, Midnight Jam.


The following days were filled with listening to bands at four different stages throughout the Walnut Valley Festival fairgrounds. The middle of the fairground had all the typical fair food you’d expect and a huge variety of it. We ate our fair share and had our favorites. There was one stand that had a prime rib sandwich and it was one of the best prime rib sandwiches I’ve ever had. You wouldn’t think it coming from a food truck, but man, it was good!

Years ago Chuck and I watched the Great Food Truck Race where some of the trucks featured gourmet food. I imagine that if the Prime Rib stand had a truck, they would’ve been a fan favorite in that competition for sure.

Aside from the tasty fair food, there were all sorts of crafts, art, and musical supplies to be purchased at kiosks. A large pole barn featured all of the music vendors which was home to some of our favorites.


Chuck and I are both huge fans of BlueChip Picks and they had a stand with the different shapes, sizes, and thicknesses. We couldn’t help but try them all out and we ended up picking out a new favorite pick style, and thickness that we’ve never used before.

We actually picked out the exact same pick that we liked the most. The BC Jazz LG 35’s. Typically we’ve always gravitated to thicker picks like 55 and 60, but the clarity, easy playability, and overall sound couldn’t be matched by any other pick in the group. We overheard a guy ask what does Billy Strings use? It turns out that he uses a TP 48.

As instructors, we always pass along to our students how important it is to find the right pick for you and your instrument. By simply switching picks, we both could instantly play noticeably faster while adding clarity to each note. The pick plays so fast and easy, it’s kind of like cheating. We’ve been using BlueChip Picks for years, and have never found anything close to its quality or wearability.

The next time you’re at a music festival or near a music store be sure to bring your guitar and try out different picks. You’ll be amazed at the difference the right pick can make.

I also got a new black Martin guitar strap from Mass Street Music. It doesn’t take much to make this girl happy. Just buy a pick and a strap instead of flowers.


Della Mae

One of our favorite bands we saw was Della Mae. They were an all-female band that featured amazing musicianship and fantastic vocals. As a stage performance goes, you could close your eyes and feel like you were hearing them in a music studio.

Appalachian Road Show

On par with Della Mae, the Appalachian Roadshow was another favorite. The sound was as if earlier versions of Mountain Heart and the Darrell Webb band were smooshed together. The result is getting a traditional foundation with out of the box exquisite arrangements and musicianship.

Both Chuck and I are huge fans of Barry Abernathy on banjo and Jim VanCleve on Fiddle who used to be in Mountain Heart. Add Todd Phillips on Upright Bass and Zeb Snyder on guitar to the mix and you have a wall of sound with a twist.

Chuck actually saw Mountain Heart’s first performance in 1998 and I saw them at the MBOTMA Music Festival in Minnesota years ago. We’ve been fans for a long time. When we were at Larry Fest in LaForge Wisconsin earlier this year, we missed the chance to see them, but the wait was worth seeing this band live. Excellent performers!

Special Consensus

Our affinity for Special Consensus goes a long way back. Special C is one of our favorite bands and the members of the band are all salt of the earth folks. Their musicianship and vocals are matched by their high energy on stage making every time we see them special. Our consensus is whenever you have a chance to see Special C, just go and you won’t be disappointed.

More Bands

A couple more bands we enjoyed at the festival were Chris Jones and Night Drivers, the Kyle Tuttle Band, Ashley Lewis and Legacy, the Hootin Annies, and The Matchsellers.

Other performers we didn’t get a chance to see but would have like to. We were either jamming or just too hot to leave the camper.
Roz Brown & Jim Ratts, Bryan Bowers Band, Bing Futch, J2B2, Barry Patton, Andy May, John McCutcheon, Still on the Hill, Socks in the Frying Pan, The Quitters, The Cowboy Way, Linda Tilton, Jig Jam, Christie Lenee, GASS, Muriel Anderson, Short Round Stringband, Old Salt Union, Steve & Ruth Smith, Tim May & Steve Smith, and R.W. Hampton.


The contests are one of the staples of the Walnut Valley Festival. A crazy amount of cash, trophies, and instrument prizes were awarded to the contestants with the highest scores on each of the following instruments: Guitar Flatpicking, Guitar Fingerpicking, Mandolin, Autoharp, Banjo, Mountain Dulcimer, Old Time Fiddle, and Hammer Dulcimer. Out of all of these contests, there was a minimum of $116,566 given away.

There was a large number of talented contestants competing and a lot of those who didn’t win certainly had a chance as the ability level of all were very high. After each of the contests were over, a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winner were chosen and all contestants who won were awarded big prizes. See the list below of instruments donated for this event.


Walnut Valley Flatpick Guitar Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place Winner: Allen Shadd (center) from Lake Wylie, SC
2nd Place Winner Sullivan Tuttle (left) from Palo Alto, CA
3rd Place Winner Jason Shaw (right) from Lincoln, NE

Runners Up:
Matthew Lindsey from Culloden, WV
Chapman Welch from Pearland, TX
25 contestants from 14 states (AZ, CA, CO, CT, FL, IL, KS, MO, NE, NM, SC, TN, TX, WV)


Walnut Valley Fingerstyle Guitar Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place Winner Adam Gardino (center) from Colorado Springs, CO
2nd Place Winner Jesse Smith (left) from Wadsworth, OH
3rd Place Winner Gints Smukais (right) from Riga, Latvia

RD King of Brighton, MA
Hiroya Tsukamoto of Woodside, NY
Contestants from 17 states / 4 countries (Japan, Latvia, Taiwan, and the USA)

Walnut Valley National Mandolin Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st place winner R. Wesley Carr (center) from Rochelle, IL
2nd place Luke Lovejoy (left) from Cloverdale, IN
3rd place winner Holten Doucette (right) from Waller, TX

Ethan Batan of Spencer, IN
Marina Pendleton of Houston, TX

Walnut Valley Bluegrass Banjo Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place winner Eric Welty (center) from Argyle, Tx
2nd Place winner Weston Stewart (right) from Anderson, AL
3rd Place winner Trevor Smith from Austin, TX

Runners Up:
Charles Butler of Nashville, TN
G. Rockwell of Bridgeport, CT
9 contestants from 7 states

Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place Celeste Johnson (center) from Arvada, CO
2nd Place Monte Gaylord (left) Vinita, OK
3rd Place Marina Pendleton (right) from Houston, TX

Hannah Farnum of Galena, MO
Emma Jane Pendleton of Tulsa, OK

Walnut Valley Autoharp Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place Winner Doug Pratt (center) from Cary, NC
2nd Place Winner Steve Luper (left) from Andover, KS
3rd Place Winner Ivan Stiles (right) from Phoenixville, PA

Loriann Clayton-Bethard
Ken Shoemaker
10 contestants from 7 states

Walnut Valley National Hammered Dulcimer Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place Winner Nate Pultorak (center) from Saranac, NY
2nd Place Winner Ben Haguewood (left) from Mineral Point, MO
3rd Place Winner: Fran Mayfield (right) from Spring, TX

Runners Up:
Cal Sweeten from Overland Park, KS
John Lion from Landsdowne, PA
10 contestants from 8 states (AR, CO, KS, MO, NY, PA, TX, WY)

Walnut Valley Mountain Dulcimer Winners

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

1st Place winner Grant Olson (center) from Andover, MN
2nd Place winner Jeff Hames (left) from Madison, MS
3rd Place winner Michele Star(right) from Durham, NC

Katie Moritz of Yorkville, IL
Jim Curley of Ironton, OH
17 contestants from 12 states (AR, IL, KS, MN, MO, MS, NC, NM, OH, OK, TN, TX)




Collings Winfield Model Mahogany/Adirondack Spruce Guitar
Collins Guitar, Inc.
11210 W Hwy 290 Austin, TX 78737
512-288-7776 www.collingsguitars.com

Preston Thompson D-SMA Custom Dreadnought Guitar
Preston Thompson Guitars
352 East Main Avenue Sisters, OR 97759
541-588-6211 www.pktguitars.com

Martin HD-28V Custom Guitar
C.F. Martin & Co., Inc.
510 Sycamore St Nazareth, PA 18064
800-633-2060 www.martinguitar.com


Bourgeois Finger Style Custom Guitar
Bourgeois Guitars, Inc.
41 Canal St. Lewiston, ME 04240
207-786-0385 www.bourgeoisguitars.com

Taylor 812ce-DLX Grand Concert Guitar
Taylor Guitars, Inc.
1980 Gillespie Way El Cajon, CA 92020
619-258-1207 www.taylorguitars.com

Huss & Dalton Winfield Competition Model FS Guitar
Huss & Dalton Guitar Co., Inc.
420 Bridge Street Staunton, VA 24401-4508
540-887-2313 www.hussanddalton.com


Pava F5 Satin Mandolin
Pava Mandolins
512-442-4941 www.pavamandolins.com

Ellis Mandolins
7208 Cooper Lane Austin, TX 78745
512-442-4941 www.ellismandolins.com

Collings MF5 Custom Mandolin
Collings Guitar, Inc.
11210 W Highway 290 Austin, TX 78737
512-288-7776 www.collingsguitars.com

Eastman MD615 F Style Mandolin
Eastman Strings, Inc.
2138 Pomona Blvd. Pomona, CA 91768
800-789-2216 www.eastmanguitars.com


Ome Megatone Bluegrass Banjo
Ome Banjos
5680 Valmont Rd Boulder, CO 80301
303-449-0041 www.omebanjos.com

Deering Calico 5-String Banjo
Deering Banjo Company
3733 Kenora Dr. Spring Valley, CA 91977
800-845-7791 www.deeringbanjos.com

Deering White Lotus Banjo
Deering Banjo Company
3733 Kenora Dr. Spring Valley, CA 91977
800-845-7791 www.deeringbanjos.com


Juzek Model 175 Fiddle, Cristiano Ferrazzi Workshop Fiddle, and E. Wilfer V60 Fiddle
Beautiful Music Violin Shop
925 Iowa St, Ste I Lawrence, KS 66004
785-856-8755 www.beautifulmusicviolinshop.com


d’ Aigle Cascade SP G-D Diatonic Autoharp
Peter Daigle
19106 Des Moines Memorial Dr. Sea Tac, WA 98148
800-630-HAPR (4277) www.autoharp.com

Whippoorwill Acoustics Luthier’s Choice Custom Autoharp
Whippoorwill Acoustics
6195 N Old 102 Rd Columbia City, IN 46725
260-249-5561 www.whippoorwillacoustics.com

Oscar Schmidt OS73C 21-Chord 1930’s Reissue Autoharp
Oscar Schmidt / U.S. Music Corp., a div of JAM Industries
1649 Barclay Blvd. Buffalo Grove, IL 60089
800-877-6863 www.oscarschmidt.com


4FHKK Custom, 6FHCRB and 4FGCS
The Dulcimer Shoppe/McSpadden Dulcimers
P.O. Box 1230 Mountain View, AR 72560
870-269-4313 www.mcspaddendulcimers.com


MasterWorks 16/15 CBWXR7 Bantam Weight Chromatic Extended Range Hammer Dulcimer
Handcrafted by MasterWorks and Russell Cook
PO Box 167 36613 US Hwy 70 Bennington, OK 74723
580-847-2273 www.masterworksok.com

Cloud Nine Model 18/17/9
Handmade by Michael C. Allen ~Cloud Nine~ Musical Instruments
5701 Stover Rd Ostrander, OH 43061
740-666-4253 www.cloudninemusical.com

Huddleson Josh Messick UL400C Chromatic Hammer Dulcimer
Mike Huddleson Stringed Instruments
6622 W 35th St S Wichita, KS 67215
316-524-0997 www.mikehuddlesonstringedinstruments.com


Loudbox Artist Amplifier – Fishman
Rare Earth Humbucking Soundhole Pickup -Fishman
Nashville Series Mandolin Pickup – Fishman
Matrix Pickup and Preamp System – Fishman
Concert Series Violin Pickup – Fishman
Rare Earth Banjo Pickup – Fishman
BlueChip Picks
Mass Street Music – Strings
Hatman Jack’s “Finest” Custom Made Hats
Solid Ground Stands
Dulcimer Player News
Elliott Capos
Silver Pearl Jewelry
Brendan White Jewelry Designs

Aside from the entertainment value, the building that the contests were held in provided a moment to recover from the heat of the day for a while. Pro Tip; if you sit by the side doors you may get a little breeze.


What is a festival moment? There are moments that excite, energize, make you laugh, take your breath away, bring a tear, and leave you standing in awe. When this happens at a music festival, whether it be musically, organically, or shared with friends, it becomes what we call a Festival Moment. At each festival Chuck and I go to, we try to write down at least three of our favorite Festival Moments. We wrote down five for this festival even though there were way more than five.

Chuck and Sandi’s Festival Moments
#1 Jamming right outside the RV under the moonlight.
#2 Jamming with our friend Ryan and his friend Brandon.
#3 Midnight Jam at Stage 5
#4 Visiting with our friend Vaughn
#5 Getting new BlueChip Picks and a Martin Guitar Strap


The Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield Kansas was a fantastic experience, and even though it was on our bucket list, what we found here was so much more than something to be checked off. Be sure to add Walnut Valley Festival to your list and bring an umbrella (for rain and/or sun) and some sunscreen.

We hope that the Walnut Valley Festival turns into a yearly event for us and we’re more than excited to add this to our chapter of music festivals we call home.


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  1. Sandi Nance-Allison says:

    I really enjoyed reading about your Winfield experience. I have been attending 44 years. People either love it or hate it! Pickers Paradise -Pickin & Grinnin in Pecan Grove.

  2. Lesson Pros says:

    Yes lots of pickin’ We had such a great time. Highly recommend this festival 🙂 Keep pickin’ and a grinnin’

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