Momo and I, overall clad and covered with temporary tattoos, were camped silently underneath a blanket in the back of a white suburban. Success, we had been smuggled into our first bluegrass festival. Walnut Valley, commonly known as Winfield, in Winfield, Kansas is a five day music festival in the cornfields of America. Heads emerging out from our blanket, we saw tents, campers, and cars snuggled closely together in a grassy field. We pulled into Camp McSpeeBee, a campsite with nine families dedicated to Winfield for over 20 years.
The eldest member of each family in the McSpeeBee clan had arrived, along with many other Winfield campers, a week early to set up a homey campsite. We were shown to the McSpeeBee outdoor shower complete with adjustable shower head, shower curtain, stone tiles, hanging soap rack, and twinkle lights, for night time showers. Momo and I walked around the Winfield campgrounds to find communal firepits surrounded by happy drinkers, open tents with musicians of all levels picking their stringed instruments on sofas and rocking chairs, small stages with bluegrass bands playing away, tye-dyed camper vans with masseuses and fortune tellers, stands with corn-on-the-cob and a watering hole along the river with a waterslide, swinging ropes and children jumping from trees.
The festival is divided into two sections, the first is the campgrounds and the second is the main stages for the national flat-pick guitar competition, along with other folk instrumental competitions and live performances. Although, I would have loved to watch the competition, the campgrounds is where all the fun is at. Not only is there plenty of room to roam, drink beer, eat with your friends and strangers, play a game of stump, a game where everyone sticks a nail in a stump and you try to drive everyone else’s nail deep into the stump with a hammer before anyone drives in your nail, a personal favorite of mine, but there are also plenty of small stages to watch bluegrass bands from all over the world and all-night picking tents where world-class musicians and beginners come together to jam. Never have I sat so close to great live music.
What I and every Winfielder loves about the festival is the atmosphere, everyone is there to make a fool of themselves dancing, tapping, and hollering to the music, to be friends with all their neighbors, and to bond over the feeling of music. Only at Winfield can you see a group of adults sitting in lawn chairs for hours with a fart machine watching the reaction of passersby. Only at Winfield have I been cheered on by a group strangers to let go of the tree like a scared cat and jump in the river. Only at Winfield have I been twirled around in a two-step all night long.
If you go to Winfield, bring a group of friends with you, wear overalls or anything ridiculous and find a good game of stump.