If you can picture the green, rolling hills of Vernon County, and can hear a fiddle, banjo and guitar playing in the background (maybe someone is even singing the bluegrass classic, “Pig in the Pen”) — you must be thinking about Larryfest.
This fantastic outdoor bluegrass festival, which was started by the Sebranek family and is named after Larry Sebranek, is now managed by the Kickapoo Valley Acoustic Music Association. The event is sold out as usual so you can’t go unless you already have tickets. Limited parking equals limited tickets (typically 800), which result in it being sold out shortly after tickets go on sale in December.
Still, if you love bluegrass music, you will want to plan ahead for next year for this annual late August event, as it features fabulous music and a friendly, relaxed atmosphere. There is lots of dancing and laughter, and even cows mooing in the background.
Here are five reasons why Larryfest will be memorable this year, and why you should consider buying tickets for next year:
Fiddles are fabulous. Banjos are boss. Guitars are grand. Bluegrass is a music form that originated in mid-America in the Appalachia’s with mixed influence from the Irish, Scottish, Welsh, and English settlers who lived there. Incorporate a little jazz and a little country inspiration, and you have today’s bluegrass genre. Music is the whole point of this festival, and organizers have been known to pull in some of the best bluegrass artists around. This year is no different with performances that include Lonesome River Band, Special Consensus, Michael Cleveland & Flamekeeper, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, The John Jorgenson Bluegrass Band, Sideline, Volume 5, The Wayfarers, Don Rigsby, Hogslop String Band and many more.
Let me be clear, this is on the very primitive side. No water. No sewer. Limited electric. Port-o-potties are your friend. This is tents-in-a-field camping, best for those with young backs (however, they do make battery-powered blowers for air mattresses nowadays). There are limited places to stay nearby, but the word “nearby” has a very different meaning in a rural setting like this (in other words, not walkable). If you plan on drinking at this festival — and you’d have to be of legal age and bring your own beer — plan on camping.
This is the sort of magical event where some of the performers stay for the weekend, therefore, it is not uncommon to have musicians who normally do not perform together singing and playing their instruments around a campfire. It’s these type of enchanted moments that give you goosebumps. This is one of the reasons why camping is so appealing at this festival.
Larryfest and the Kickapoo Valley Acoustic Music Association love to promote local talent, so there is an annual songwriting contest tied to Larryfest every year. Ten songs and performers are selected to perform in front of judges in July, and then the top three are invited to play their songs during Larryfest. Prizes include the option of recording the song in a recording studio, a new acoustic guitar and cash. Come cheer on our local songwriting talent.
5) This is the first year without Doug.
One of the event founders, Doug Sebranek, died on New Year’s Eve. He was one of those guys who never forgot you — even if he hadn’t seen you in years. He always had a ticket when you forgot to buy one before the festival sold out, and he would save you a premiere camping spot, too. Doug was also a “behind the scenes” guy who did a lot of the work to get the festival going, but preferred to hide when it was time to take credit for that work. He was a lover of bluegrass music, of late-night revelry and mischief in general. It will not be the same without him, but I’m betting his spirit will be there somewhere near the best of the female fiddle players.
Anastasia Penchi is graduate of UW-La Crosse and a long-time Coulee Region writer who has written for area newspapers and magazines (www.loislaneforhire.com).