Coming together to enjoy music can be good for the soul

Sometimes we need a refreshing change, and musical gatherings often provide that.

When the Great Depression was bringing tremendous pain, old time fiddle music dating to the Civil War and older had a revival because it was light, bright, portable, and you could dance to it in school houses, barns and parlors. I think sometimes about the late Joe Grable a fine fiddler, and the fiddle-backed dances that lasted into modern times in northern Platte County.

But swing music, jazz, arose in old hard times, too, through World War II. Those swinging tunes or romantic ballads once wafted out from the dance hall at Bean Lake, or even at the building now called The Dirty Shame at the Platte County Fairgrounds in Tracy.

How sweet the change from harshness music brings. Even if sometimes the tunes are bit melancholy and touch a little sadness we’ve been carrying, but we’re the lighter of mind once our feelings have been tapped.

Music is on my mind because a couple events with good music are coming up in the county, but I’m also glad music is on the horizon in Riverside and Weston because I’m in a bit of withdrawal this week.

Last week, I was camped with friends at the 46th annual Walnut Valley Music Festival in Winfield, Kan. It’s a good long ride from Platte County to the sprawling Cowley County Fairgrounds in southern Kansas, almost to Oklahoma.

 Yet, there were Weston-area natives camped near to my tent, and just for a reminder of home, someone had plastered posters throughout about the Dust Bowl Jamboree on Saturday, Sept. 30, at E.H. Young Riverside Park in Riverside.

I welcomed the reminder.

Most of us simply call the Walnut Valley Festival “Winfield,” a one-word designation for a place that becomes very special. For one, it’s one of the world’s great music festivals, thanks to cutting-edge talent on stages. We’re talking folk, Celtic, bluegrass, jazz grass, and acoustic music for which there’s no old definition.

But perhaps even more, the festival is about music, laughter, and camaraderie among 10,000 to 15,000 people, most of them camped out in trailers, RVs and tents. The scene includes funny signs, creative camp decorations and a crafts area.

Winfield has a spirit the festival goers nurture, and it draws upon a local army of paid personnel or volunteers.

The festival co-founder, Bob Redford, died during the past year, but just like the years with floods from the Walnut River, rains, drought, heat, and cold, people and the music carry on. And the Redford family and their core organizers are doing so, too, without them the festival withers.

Yet it is people making good things happen in each campsite, on each stage, at with every “howdy do” to strangers that creates the most noticeable positive energy.

We’ve seen this locally on a smaller scale.

Parkville has festivals. Camden Point celebrates on the Fourth of July. Edgerton recently held Pioneer days. And the 29th annual Applefest in Weston approaches on Oct. 7 and 8.

Applefest has always drawn a bit upon the old buildings, homes, and crafts to create an autumn mood that feels comforting. But it’s the people enjoying being among other people having fun that’s made the festival so popular that satellite parking is required to keep the town passable. Full disclosure, my little acoustic band is playing music along with other bands at Applefest this year.

I am not playing music at Riverside for the free (that’s right — no entrance charge ) Dust Bowl Jamboree on Sept. 30. I’m not even familiar with any of the bands or individual performers, but they look interesting, like someone put some thought and care into the musical arrangements, and there will be a vintage car show, a youth acoustic music contest, music jam sessions, food and beverages. It’s a bit like a one-day child-of-Winfield fest.

The more pleasant refreshment we can find in our communities, the better we will be.

I follow the news and worry for hurricane victims. America’s sharp political and cultural divides are exhausting.

I welcome a break.

Music helps, so does being around people for shared experience. We can tap toes to tunes, laugh, and admire a good old car together regardless of our politics. Festivals are reminders that America is far more than a crises echoing endlessly inside a television set. Autumn is here, enjoy the season’s change, get out and about among music and people, good things await beyond the usual walls.

Bill Graham, who lives in the Platte City area, may be reached by e-mail at