Walnut Valley Festival History

by | 12 Aug, 2022

Walnut Valley Festival Winners

New Book On The History of The Walnut Valley Festival.

Since 1972, the Walnut Valley Festival traditionally is held the 3rd weekend of September in Winfield, KS, and draws a crowd of 10,000-15,000 people to celebrate a blend of all kinds of acoustic music, including bluegrass, folk, Americana, a little bit of cowboy, some Celtic, blues, jazz and swing, and more.

Thanks to Seth Bate, we can now discover for much of the untold history and hidden lore of the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield, Kansas. Bate, who moved to Winfield for college, attended the festival and has been a devoted fan ever since. Aside from his examination of the festival’s early years and what distinguishes it from other music festivals, Winfield’s Walnut Valley Festival includes reflections from entertainers, staff and crew, as well as campers and fans. Published by the History Press, it also has over 100 images, most drawn from WVF archives, and one appendix providing significant festival milestones and a second providing a listing of all the artists who have played at Winfield over its 50-year history.

I moved to Kansas in 1989 to attend Southwestern College in Winfield. I fell in love with a Kansas farm girl, Jenny, and have made Winfield my home. I started working as a WVF emcee and stage manager in the late 1990s, and a few years later Jenny and I took over managing the Wednesday Workshops—hands-on workshops that give participants the opportunity to learn directly from festival artists. In addition to my own love for the festival, I married into a family connection. Jenny’s dad, Joe Muret, was one of the three founding members of the Walnut Valley Festival. Joe ended his association with the festival in the early 1980s, but he and his wife, Christie, are still a great source of stories about the early days – Seth Bate.

Walnut Valley FestivalBate enjoyed the festival so much that he picked it as a topic for his master’s thesis, which focused on the challenges faced by the organizers of a ‘raucous’ music festival in in a fairly conservative Kansas town. When WVF Executive Director Bart Redford read the thesis, he promptly dubbed Bate the ‘official Walnut Valley Festival Historian.’

The book includes reflections by festival staff, emcees, performers, campers and fans. The list of contributors, aside from Bate’s substantive portions on the early history and feel of the festival, includes Dan Crary, Beppe Gambetta, John McCutcheon, Leo Eilts, Linda Tilton, Orin Friesen, Sam Ontjes, Wayne Steadham, Janine & Edward Foster, Karen Deal, Russell and Sherry Brace, Tim Sidebottom, Larry Junker, Greg Smyer, Kendra Redford and Bart Redford.

When we started talking about turning my thesis into a book, the easy thing would have been to just condense what I had written and add some of the festival’s amazing collection of photos. Bart and his team wisely suggested something more collaborative, reflecting the Winfield spirit. We collected contributions from a wide variety of artists, festival staff, crew members and campers. I think the result benefits from the variety of viewpoints, the different ways that people see the festival, based on their own experiences – Seth Bate.

The book is available for purchase at the Walnut Valley Festival office, 918 Main Street, Winfield, KS, or on the festival website, wvfest.com (under Tix and Merchandise). It will also be available for purchase at the 50th Walnut Valley Festival, September 14-18, at the Mercantile.

About Seth Bate:

Seth Bate has a degree in music and theatre from Southwestern College. His interest in Kansas history was sparked by traveling Kansas for his work at the Wichita State University Community Engagement Institute, and by teaching at the Kansas Leadership Center. Seth earned his master’s degree from Wichita State’s Local and Community History Program and holds a professional certified coach credential from the International Coaching Federation. His writing has been recognized by the Kansas Association of Historians and appeared in the Kansas Leadership Center Journal. Seth loves cooking, taking naps in a hammock and making his kids listen to loud ‘80s heavy metal. Follow him on Instagram: @sethinkansas

Main Photo Caption: (L-R) Stuart Mossman, Joe Muret and Bob Redford shown with the prize instruments given at the first National Flat Picking Guitar Contest in 1972. The guitar held by Redford was awarded to Jimmy Gyles, winner of the ‘72 Flatpick Championship. This historic custom Mossman guitar will be on display during this year’s festival to view in person.