Platte Countians have a long history of heading west for adventure and fun. Some of us continued the tradition recently, at least for a week or so. However, there were differences. Our ancestors — usually male, young and bored with farm work — would hire on with the freighters traveling to New Mexico, California or mining places springing up in the Rockies. Some would take work with the military wagon trains hauling supplies to lonely forts along various trails. Perhaps someone would tune up a fiddle and play a few tunes for a short while at a good water hole after a day less exhausting than most. Music was an afterthought. Those of us from the southern county in the Platte Purchase who recently journeyed to Winfield, Kan., felt just about as adventurous, but we had men and women in the caravans to campgrounds near the Oklahoma line. Ages varied but some of us are approaching geezerhood. We fought the cold, then the heat, dust and scorching sun. Supplies sometimes ran low and scouting parties were sent to Wal-Mart. Instead of wagons, we circled up trailers and pop-up campers. The old freighters on the plains certainly didn’t consider their rigs recreational vehicles. But we did. Another major difference, music was the main reason we went southwest. Acoustic guitars, mandolins, banjos, fiddles and big bass fiddles came out every night. Weariness and weather did not slow us after the sun went down at the Walnut Valley Music Festival at the Cowley County Fairgrounds. The festival most of us simply refer to as Winfield is among the world’s great music gatherings. It is 43 years old and going stronger than ever. Bluegrass, folk, Celtic, cowboy and jazz music is played there. Platte County was well represented. Among those as camp neighbors or saying howdy were folks from Parkville, Weston, Platte City and Smithville. One mandolin picker lives on the Platte-Clay-Clinton line and claims all three counties. I shall not name names to protect those guilty of having too much fun. Winfield has four main stages with paid performers. Connie Dover of Weston has performed there in past years. The rest of us are campground pickers. Provide us with folding chairs, a wee bit of night sleep, perhaps a short afternoon nap, and we will sing until too tired to bend strings. Camp is our stage. Our band is often whoever happens to be wandering past in the night and wishes to join in. We didn’t invent the basic premise. Pioneer accounts talk of cabin raisings and barn parties with music and dancing going until sunup. Some people just are moved mightily by music and that appears to be timeless through generations. Square dances with fiddles and live music went on in Platte County into the 1970s and perhaps the early 1980s, I’ve been told. I missed out on that but have talked to people who participated. I know people who were kinfolk to well-known Missouri fiddlers who played the old-time music. Some of us carry that music forward. Over the years I’ve sometimes wished that Platte County hosted a smaller version of Winfield. However, I’ve had two different groups of friends who did just that in neighboring counties, and it’s a tremendous amount of work to make such events happen and go smoothly, so perhaps it is better to let folks in far-away places be the organizers. Home is dear, but sometimes it’s nice to hold distant places close to the heart — some place you can go to in your mind. The old freight hands who came back to Platte County, married and farmed never forgot places like Santa Fe. They mentioned them prominently to historians gathering pioneer tales. We live in houses and towns that feel more permanent than what the pioneers knew, but we have the same restless urge for adventure, especially if it involves music.
Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area with his family, may be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.