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Willow Folk Festival

Aug 09, 2015

Started in 1967 by a church youth group leader as a fundraiser and means of community engagement, the festival has become something of a home away from home for the regular attendees, and morphed into a family event over the generations. One regular attendee, Brad, said “I’ve been to Willow every single year I’ve been alive, in a sense I’ve quite literally grown up here.” His brother, Mark, went on to add: “Willow’s just always there. No matter what kind of year I have, I always know: at least Willow’s coming up”  This is a history shared by a great deal of the attendees of Willow, it is not uncommon to see 3 or 4 generations of a family all enjoying the music and the festival together. Since the festival is so small, and the rate of return for attendees is so high, an enduring sense of community and family has developed among the attendees, simply through the festival itself; everyone knows who has the reputation for making good food, throwing a mean party, and playing good music.

Unlike most other music festivals which have set artists who play long sets, the music Willow Folk Festival is ran entirely on an open-mic style setup: anyone who wants to play can sign up to play a 15 minute set on the main stage in front of a few hundred people. The easy accessibility of the stage makes it a wonderful place for young and aspiring musicians to have the opportunity to play in front of a large audience. Don’t let the ease of access to the stage fool you however, there are still a great deal of professional touring bluegrass groups about.

Since there are so many musicians at Willow due to the DIY nature of the festival, the campground constantly has live music to see. Nearly every campfire will have a few musicians jamming, and many of the more experienced bands will play for hours well into the night to enthusiastic crowds. Naturally, as you would expect from a festival of this kind, there was a massive drum circle around a towering inferno, and a questionably ironic singalong to the modern folk classic “Wagon Wheel”

Story and Photos by Jan Iversen