Coming home to Winfield: the history of the Walnut Valley Festival

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Bate, Seth Stephen
Price, Jay M., 1969-

The Walnut Valley Festival was a multi-day event featuring musical performances, instrument contests, camping, and craft sales held in Winfield, Kansas. The Winfield faithful found solace and certainty in the consistency of the Walnut Valley Festival (WVF) each September. This was one of the ways the event reflected the time of its creation. In 1972, an increasingly skeptical and conservative America sought certainty in popular culture that reclaimed identities that seemed to be lost. When culture that represented such certainty was blended with sounds that were popular on the radio, one result was the rise of bluegrass, particularly bluegrass consumed in a festival setting. At festivals, attendees were consumers, but they were also creators and participants. Settings such as the Walnut Valley Festival were interactive in a way that encouraged personal fulfillment through supportive communities, and had booths to sell participants what they needed to continue seeking that fulfillment. From the start, the WVF was a musician's festival. Being a "picker's paradise" was central to the festival's brand and placed the event squarely in the context of bluegrass music. In order to establish itself as commercially viable, the Walnut Valley Association emphasized that its event was family friendly. To a great extent, this was a response to the new nostalgia that emerged in the 1970s as families tried to soothe their anxieties with entertainment that reflected simplicity and connection. It was also a reflection of the personal values of festival organizers. At the same time, emphasizing family friendliness was a defensive move, designed to ward off bad press and governmental regulation. Most importantly, WVF promoters stressed that the people who came to the Winfield Fairgrounds were not like the people who went to rock music festivals in Pittsburg, Kansas, Sedalia, Missouri, or Woodstock, New York.

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Thesis (M.A.)-- Wichita State University, College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Dept. of History