From the Editor’s Files: Festival begins long before first official stage act

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I was still tired, but it wasn’t hard to get out of bed this past Saturday morning.
Of course not. Kim and I and her sister Karen were headed to Hutchinson that morning to get Kim and my camper and deliver it to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield. Karen was along for the ride to gather some of her camping gear, too.
We store our camper at a family property in Hutchinson and avoid storage fees that we would otherwise incur. So far, since acquiring our “new to us” travel trailer in October of last year, it’s worked out really well.
Our goal for the day was to get our camper in line for the bluegrass festival’s annual Land Rush, which happens this Thursday. The actual music festival starts a week later.
Call me – and a thousand other people – crazy, but we think it’s worth the cost, the effort, and the brief slip from sanity.
When I try to explain this whole process to other folks, they really do look at me like I’m crazy. But in my mind, the Walnut Valley Festival starts way before the official music gets rolling each year.
The festival will celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, and I’ve been a participant for 46 of those years (see related story and photo collection in this week’s paper). That makes me something of a long-timer at this amazing event, and when I try to preach about it a little bit, people tend to listen.
It’s kinda fun.

Publisher Paul Rhodes puts his camper in place Saturday for the Land Rush at the annual Walnut Valley Festival.

For me, getting the camping spot I want at the festival has become something akin to a spiritual experience, and I wouldn’t change that experience for anything. To that end, the Walnut Valley Festival, for me, starts right around Labor Day weekend each year.
Kim and I have done Land Rush together most of our years together. Karen joined us last year, and wanted to at least come share in the experience of getting in line this year.
Pulling onto the festival grounds at the Cowley County Fairgrounds genuinely gives me goosebumps each year. It’s the start of something big.
That’s immediately followed by a little pain in my colon as I reach for my wallet and pay for more than two weeks worth of camping fees.
But once that pain is gone, I’m back to goosebumps. We wait patiently for a gentleman named Rick, who’s in charge of lining up campers each year. He leads the way on his four-wheeler, and signals where we are supposed to park.
How Rick keeps track of more than 1,000 campers on Land Rush day is still a mystery to me. Some facts of life are supposed to be shrouded in magic, I guess.
We quickly unhooked our travel trailer, and then checked out the festival grounds for this new and exciting year. With a travel trailer to make our lives more comfortable this year, we’re going to claim a camping spot with power and water for our small group of campers. We found the spot we really want, identified a back-up spot just in case, and headed to lunch in town.
By the time many of you get a chance to read this week’s paper, we will be finished with Thursday morning’s 7 a.m. Landrush, and hopefully will be getting settled into our first-choice spot. Fingers crossed.
Once again, all of my kids are coming to the festival, and we are hoping that becomes a tradition, rather than just a wonderful coincidence. My son Bill flew in from California on Monday, and will be participating in Land Rush over in his favorite camping area, as well. His sister Katie and her fiance Rob will join him there next week, and my oldest daughter Abby and the grandkids arrive then, as well.
They will all arrive the first day of the festival, but just remember…for me, the festival will already be a week deep into its festivities.

Editor’s note: Stay tuned over the next few weeks as publisher Paul Rhodes brings you more news and anecdotes from the Walnut Valley Festival.