From the Editor’s File: Low stress? Not this Land Rush thing…

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By Paul Rhodes, publisher and editor

You would think that heading off to the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield to camp and listen to bluegrass music for several days would be really, really relaxing.
Think again.
The concept, of course, is very relaxing. Find a nice camping spot, set up your camper or tent, and then take in four days of live music on a dozen different official and unofficial stages, performed by literally dozens of bands and musicians. That part can be very laid back.
But getting to that point can be a little crazy. Because of the demand for prime camping spots and electricity, this festival does a crazy little thing called Land Rush. You’ve heard of the Oklahoma Land Rush in 1889? Just keep that in mind.
This event is a little more civilized, but not by much. People first line up “on line” weeks and weeks before the festival, and then physically line up weeks before the festival. We got in line this year on Saturday of Labor Day weekend, and we were still almost 450 campers back in line.
There’s separate lines for the two main campgrounds, West (I still call it Walnut Grove) and the famous, somewhat frightening Pecan Grove. Kim and I wanted West; my son Bill who flew in from California for this insanity, wanted the Pecan Grove.
Stressful things started happening right away. The night before Land Rush happened, Kim and I realized that organizers had put us in the wrong line. In the dark, we had to hook up our camper and get repositioned in the right line.
Land Rush started at 7 a.m. the next morning. As we approached the spot we wanted, we saw that a huge RV was already parked there – but the driver was still behind the wheel. What happened next was a miracle.
His wife ran up, and waived him to a different spot. We drove in, plugged in, and started staking out our turf.
Meanwhile, Bill was over in the Pecan Grove, stressing out over where to claim his camp. He’d narrowed it down to two spots: one deep in The Grove, with lots of shade under huge pecan trees, and another more open but still beautiful spot.
I helped him settle on the shady spot, but by the time we got his camper over there, others were already encroching on his little area. Unbeknownst to Bill, he was smack in between two old, long-established camps.
By then, the second choice was long gone. Bill found a third option, but by the time we got the camper over there, it had been claimed, too. Bill was about to come unglued.
At this point I tried to stay calm for him, but it was hard. Somehow, I convinced him to drop his camper in his spot from the previous year, and claim the last plug in on that power pole.
By then it was dark, and we both were shaking from hunger. Back at my camper, Kim made us sit down together and eat, and reassess the situation. With food in his belly and a new energy, Bill went back to set up camp. By midnight, I’d received a picture of his popup camper all set up, and a text: “I’m very content with this spot now.”
The days following that chaos have been much like they’re supposed to be: cutting up firewood, running into town for supplies, cooking meals in our respective camps, and listening to musicians around their campfires.
And by this Thursday, the rest of my family members will arrive –AND the official music actually starts.
What a sweet, relaxing deal.

Paul Rhodes/TSnews
Long-time volunteers work on the neon sign for Stage 5, one of the unofficial but famous stages at the Walnut Valley Festival. The actual stage is built on the back of an old grain truck.
Paul Rhodes/TSnews
Musicians were already getting serious about their impromptu performances in the Pecan Grove the weekend before the festival starts. Lorie Jo Bridges, center, was belting out one of her favorite tunes along one of the dusty roads leading through the Pecan Grove.