It’s all about the music, of course, at the fifth annual Roots and Bluegrass Music Festival in River Falls that swings into action on Thursday night, then really gets rockin’ on the weekend, but there are lots of other related activities as well.
The following is a blow by blow description of what you can find happening downtown now through Sunday.
This is the second year of a local craft beer and wine tasting event, running from 5-8 p.m. Friday at Juniors Bar and Restaurant. There have been many scheduled openings of new wineries and craft-style breweries in the immediate area, and this is your chance to see and taste in person what they have to offer. This is the only event of the entire festival where you have to pay to participate, but you get a lot of bang for your buck, as dozens of the drinks can be sampled for only a $20 fee (or $30 at the door). And there will be music, of course; Pushing Chain will provide it.
Craft beer makers at the tasting include those from the immediate area and locales just to the north, southeast and west, and they are 4 Brothers Beer, American Sky Brewing Co., Milwaukee Brewing Co., Rush River Brewing Company, Summit Brewing Company, Fulton Brewing Co., Gray’s Brewing and Lucette Brewing. Wines available, from both local and regional companies, are from 65 Wines, Door County Wine, M’Shiraz, Spurgeon Vineyards, River Bend Vineyard and Winery, Wollershein Winery and, for a bit of a different twist, Maiden Rock Winery and Cidery.
Specific brands include Hop Silo Double IPA, Saga IPA, Frost Line Rye, Farmers Daughter, Ride Again and Slow Hand, and also Honey Crisp Hard Cider, Crabby Cider and Apfelweiss Wine.
Advance tickets can be gained at the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce office, DeVine Liquor, Dick’s Hometown Liquor and Juniors.
But back to the music, the festival committee carefully selects regional acts that are musically innovative, but capture the tradition of bluegrass and Americana at the same time, says one of the organizers, Chris Silver of the band Good Intentions, which plays Sunday.
“Some of the bluegrass bands play tunes that were written by iconic players like Bill Monroe and Ralph Stanley while others play a more regional repetoire. All of the bands in our lineup have years of experience performing around the region,” he says.
Bluegrass has a strong hold on the Upper Midwest these days, in large part due to the success of bands like Trampled by Turtles and Pert Near Sandstone, he adds. “The energy that these bands and the bands that will perform at the festival have is infectious and our festival audience has shown huge amounts of enthusiasm at each show.
“One thing is for certain: people return (to our fest) year after year.”
Jeff Wesley of Juniors Bar chimed in with this, as why people keep coming back. “The common theme with all of the bands is that they fit into some aspect of roots and Americana music, although we tend to focus predominantly on bluegrass acts. Over the five years of the festival we have had dozens of bluegrass, folk, Cajun, jazz, blues, gospel and alt-country acts.” Each year the festival books a handful of returning acts, but tries hard to find new bands to generate a new buzz and new energy towards the endeavor.
“The biggest difference between acts would be variations in styles … and to the more trained ear, variations of style within a genre. For example, the Fish Heads play more of an Americana style while incorporating aspects of bluegrass, whereas Art Stevenson and Highwater are going to offer a much more traditional bluegrass style,” Wesley said. “As far as differences within a genre, both Sans Souci Quartet and the Good Intentions play bluegrass, but the bluegrass aficionado would be able to tell a major difference between the two groups, whereas a novice listener would feel that the two groups were pretty similar.” He said the Barley Jacks are a unique blend of bluegrass and traditional Celtic styles, creating their own sound and establishing themselves as one of the Midwest’s best live bands.”
“While you can see many of the festival acts playing throughout the area, and many have played at Juniors over the past few years, what makes our festival so unique is that you can see a dozen great regional and local bands within the course of one weekend,” he said, adding that the fest has stages all over town, not just one stage cycling bands through one at a time.”This gets the attendee up and moving and patronizing multiple businesses throughout downtown River Falls,” Wesley said. It creates a whole weekend of great vibes.
Getting back to the Barley Jacks, for example, they play a lot of originals, and also incorporate blues, classical and bebop styles into their songs, which can be heard on Friday night. Their 2010 devue recording, Either Side of Night, received critical acclaim and they garnered an Artist Initiative Award from the Minnesota Arts Board in 2011.
Another act that could be considered a headliner and that performs Saturday night, Art Stevenson and his band, have been playing since 1993, and the husband-and-wife-led group that includes a dobro player have put out seven albums and have gained praise from industry magazines.
Kind Country is noted for their cover of Friend of the Devil by the Grateful Dead, and concerning the Dead Horses, bandmate Sarah won the festival’s singer/songwriter competition in 2012. (For a complete list of bands playing, and times and venues, visit this web site’s Picks of the Week category).
– To see how all types of players stack up against the best in the business, eight to 12 contestants compete in a contest showcasing a bluegrass technique called, of course, flatpicking, which can be described as playing notes on the springs with an up and down motion, giving the melody of percussive feel, Chris Silver says. The prized Upper Midwest championship play-off for the flatpicking is at Juniors on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. “The tunes usually come form the fiddle tune and swing repertoires. It takes a tremendous amount of ability, dexterity, fine motor and music vocabulary to win a flatpicking contest.” Songs can range from fiddle tunes to more jazz influenced bluegrass instrumentals, he said. “The tunes that are typically chosen are labeled as flatpicking standards.”
– The Attic Treasures Appraisal, at Riverwalk Art and Antiques, will likely appeal to you if you can answer this question: “Do you have a treasured heirloom or awesome find you have been wondering about? Meet with our experienced antique dealers on Saturday to learn about it and it’s possible value,” say the store owners of the activity, from 2-4 p.m. “Walk-ins are welcome to bring an item or just enjoy watching.”
However, because this has been a popular event and seating is limited, to ensure your item is seen, the owners recommend contacting them in advance at email@example.com. to send a description of the item and photos, if possible. Any markings, dates or patent numbers are helpful in determining value, and they will start doing research when hearing from you. “Stories associated with what you have are always interesting, too,” they say.
– “Paint the town” is a free family activity held in conjunction with Hudson’s Cheers Pablo painting experience shop, which will provide mini-canvasses and of course, the paint. It is Saturday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Funktion Junktion. There will also be contests to buy two paintings. These are “Guitar” at Juniors at 3 p.m. Saturday, and “Peaceful Trees” at Funktion Junktion at 2 p.m. Sunday. Each are $35 per person.
The festival is presented by the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau, in conjunction with Family Fresh Market, River Falls Journal, the Pioneer Press, Brickhouse Music and Rush River Brewing Co. Harmonica Sponsors are Ameripride, Sysco, Pairfection/Juniors and Upper Lakes Foods, and Friends of Bluegrass named are Ace Hardware, Belle Vinez Winery, Dynamic Bookkeeping, Edward Jones, Green Oasis, Hub 70 Design & Print, Jazz 88 PM – KBEM – FM, MN Bluegrass Association, Thunder Country Radio 95.7 and WESTconsin Credit Union.
For more information, contact the Chamber at (715) 425-2533 or www.riverfallsbluegrass.com.