Walnut Valley Festival

The Walnut Valley Association was formed in 1972, with its sole purpose to produce the Walnut Valley National Guitar Flat-Picking Championships Festival, also known as the Flat-Picking Championships, currently known as the “Walnut Valley Festival” or simply “Winfield” to the long time attendees.
Evolving from three days in 1972 to its current five days the 3rd weekend of September annually, it endeavors to produce “family fare” entertainment on four stages simultaneously, a large quality, juried arts and crafts fair, workshops, and acoustic instrument contests. What began with 10 acts and two contests now boasts 30 to 40 acts and eight contests, including two international contests, five national contests and one Walnut Valley contest.
The contests are a major part of the Festival. Along with the National Flat Pick Guitar Championships and the International Finger Style Guitar Championships, the Walnut Valley Festival hosts the International Autoharp, National Mountain Dulcimer, National Hammered Dulcimer, National Bluegrass Banjo, National Mandolin and the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championships. Over the course of years, the contests at Winfield have attracted more than 5,600 contestants from all 50 states as well as many foreign countries including Australia, Brazil, Canada, Denmark, France, Scotland, Sweden, England, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Caledonia, and Switzerland. Well-known Winfield winners include Mark O’Connor of New York, New York, who has won or placed in more Walnut Valley Festival contests than any other contestant. Mark won the National Guitar Flat-Picking Championship in 1975 and 1977, and also won the Walnut Valley Fiddle Championship in 1974 and 1977. Alison Krauss of Nashville, Tennessee won the Walnut Valley Fiddle Championship in 1984. Steve Kaufman of Alcoa, Tennessee and Jason Shaw of Lincoln, Nebraska are the only three-time winners of the National Guitar Flat-Picking Contest, Kaufman having won in the years 1978, 1984, and 1986 and Shaw having won in 1993, 2004 and 2010. Jason Shaw is also a two-time winner in the Walnut Valley Old Time Fiddle Championship. In 2009, Bryan McDowell from North Carolina became the only contestant to win three contests in one year, Flat-Pick, Mandolin and Fiddle. Other Winfield winners include mandolin virtuoso Chris Thile, the Mandolin Champion in 1993 and Dixie Chicks fiddler Martie Erwin Seidel who placed second in 1987 and third in 1989.
Festival attendance has averages between 11,000 and 15,000 annually. It is a “participation” event in that most people who attend play an instrument of some kind, and a good portion of them bring their instruments and participate in the campsite picking. Hired artists who appear on stage also go into the campgrounds and join around campfires to pick with everyone else. In 1991, our 20th annual Festival, an attempt was made to host the world’s largest acoustic string band. When the time came, 770 musicians held their instruments skyward and played “Will the Circle Be Unbroken.”
Lots of family reunions happen there, and many weddings have taken place at the Festival. The Walnut Valley Festival has always been a place to make new friends and renew old acquaintances.
Though the Festival is called “bluegrass”, it has never been JUST bluegrass. It now is a blend of all kinds of acoustic music: bluegrass, folk, old-time country, a little bit cowboy, Celtic, blues, jazz, swing and more. And the bluegrass is both traditional and progressive.
Among those who have appeared on stage at the Walnut Valley Festival are: Lester Flatt, Doc & Merle Watson, Mark O’Connor, Alison Krauss, Mike Snider, Byron Berline, Dan Crary, Norman Blake, John Hartford, Tom Chapin, David Grisman, Merle Travis, Mike Cross, New Grass Revival, Hot Rize, Nickel Creek, David Holt, DeDannan (Irish), Tony Rice, Jim & Jesse, Jimmy Driftwood, Don Reno, Buck White, Red Clay Ramblers, Gamble Rogers, Joel Mabus, Bryan Bowers, Front Porch String Band, Robin & Linda Williams, The Dixie Chicks, Doug Dillard, Tom Paxton, John McCutcheon, Tommy Emmanuel and many more.
The Walnut Valley Festival was honored in 1999 by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Being selected to receive the first ever “IBMA Bluegrass Event Of The Year” award was a proud moment for everyone who has worked to make the Walnut Valley Festival a success.
Still the third week-end in September, in Winfield, Kansas, at the Winfield Fairgrounds, the Walnut Valley Festival has long prided itself on being educational as well as enjoyable, but most of all, the Festival is a homecoming. And a homecoming not just because of the music, but a coming home to a place in the soul and the heart with a spirit of celebration.