#023 - Walnut Valley Music Festival - Winfield Kansas by Chuck and Sandi Millar Lesson Pros

#023 - Walnut Valley Music Festival - Winfield Kansas by Chuck and Sandi Millar Lesson Pros

#023 - Walnut Valley Music Festival - Winfield Kansas

Cover designed by Kent Smith, Lawrence, KS smittytown.com

A Mix of Bluegrass, Old-time, 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 friends' eyes light up when they talk about the festival, which 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 already there. 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 the 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 settled in, parked the RV, hooked up the electric, and took our slides out, we set off for our first night's 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 small campsite stages mixed in with campers, colorful lights, costumes, and people. 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 were 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 were 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 of the Best Campground
Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival Winner 1

1st Place - Geezers of Anarchy

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival 2nd
2nd Place - Lit on the Low Road

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival

Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival 3rd

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 Locations, 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 Bluegrass Festival 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.

Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival Poster


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 Bluegrass Festival P


The next day, it was pretty warm out, 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 and intimate, and the music was great. 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 to have our “Midnight Jam.” The 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 echoing through the trees. Ever since that night, we have always tried to have at least one moment like that at each festival.


After walking around for a bit, we ended up in front of Stage 5 (another side stage in the Pecan Grove area), where music was being performed earlier. While there were 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’d 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 night's enchantment 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, kiosks sold all sorts of crafts, art, and musical supplies. A large pole barn featured all the music vendors, including some of our favorites.


Chuck and I are both huge fans of BlueChip Picks, and they had a stand with 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 35s. 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 Billy Strings uses. It turns out that he uses a TP 48.


Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival Blue Chip Picks


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. Instead of flowers, just buy a pick and a strap.


Della Mae

One of our favorite bands we saw was Della Mae. They were an all-female band with amazing musicianship and 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 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 that 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.

Here are other performances we didn’t get a chance to see but would have liked 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, a minimum of $116,566 was given away.

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



Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival Flat Picking Champion

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 Bluegrass Festival Finger Style Champion

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 Bluegrass Festival Mandolin Champion

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 Festival Banjo Champion

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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

  1. Rockwell of Bridgeport, CT

9 contestants from 7 states



Walnut Valley Bluegrass Festival Fiddle Champion

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 Bluegrass Festival Autoharp Champion

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 Bluegrass Festival Hammered Dulcimer

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 Bluegrass Festival Mountain Dulcimer Winner

Photo by Walnut Valley Festival[/caption]

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 where the contests were held provided a moment to recover from the heat of the day. 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.

Lesson Pros
Learn from the Pros

If you are interested in learning to play an instrument, check out our Beginner Courses or All Lesson Pros Courses.


Back to blog


Here's a friendly reminder this page may contain affiliate links. If you purchase any product from one of these links within the next 24 hours we will receive a small commission at no extra cost to you. Thank you for choosing to support Lesson Pros.


Be sure to subscribe to the Lesson Pros Music Education Blog and Chuck and Sandi's Full-Time RVing, Inspiration and Travel Blog


On another note, some of our students asked us if they could donate to Lesson Pros. So, we decided to set up a program where all donations go towards helping students get started in an instrument. Your donations are appreicated.



Building Confidence Through Music