From the Editor’s Files: Raising the hairs on my arms

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By Paul Rhodes, publisher and editor

The 50th anniversary of the Walnut Valley Festival in Winfield was nothing short of a huge success.
As for me and my family, there were plenty of memorable moments at this year’s bluegrass festival, some of which actually raised the hairs on my arms. These are the kinds of memories that last a lifetime, and we’ll be sharing them for all the remaining years we have together at the festival.
With our new camping spot and the luxury of having power and water and many of the creature comforts of home, I was able to stop working so hard to maintain camp. One of the creature comforts I did for myself was to purchase a cast iron griddle, on which I prepared camp meals that brought the house down.
The use of a camp griddle was one of my favorite memories of old friend and festival goer Jack Coleman, who used to always invite us over for camp breakfast. My own griddle was a gift to myself – and a tribute to my old friend Jack. Just using my griddle raised the hairs on my arms more than once.
On the first night of the festival, our favorite band The Steel Wheels went beyond their scheduled performances on the main stages and showed up after midnight on Stage 5. That’s where some of the festival’s real magic happens, as performers from all ranks aspire to get up on stage on the back of an old, flatbed farm truck.
Kim and I had made it over to Stage 5 early, heard a great set by cowboy band Three Trails West, and then held our ground as hundreds of people poured in to hear Steel Wheels. Their set was energetic and powerful, and then they raised the hairs on my arms – and probably all the arms in the audience – with a moving performance of “The Weight,” originally sung by The Band (Bob Dylan’s backup group).
You all know this song: “I rolled into Nazareth, was feelin’ about half past dead” is the opening line. The chorus goes: “Take a load off Fanny, Take a load for free. Take a load off Fanny, And (and) (and) you put the load right on me.”
Hearing hundreds of people singing that song in perfect harmony as Steel Wheels laid the musical foundation was like finding yourself in a dream that isn’t a dream at all. It was a moment in time that Kim and I will never forget.
We found ourselves there again late Saturday night at the festival’s Main Stage, once again singing along with a favorite band. This time it was Jig Jam, an Irish band that put their instruments and microphones aside and got the audience to sing along as hundreds of cell phones lit up the night sky.
And again, the hairs were raised on my arms.
This year’s 50th anniversary of the Walnut Valley Festival could not have been better. My kids and grandkids were all there, Kim and I were comfortable and able to enjoy all the music we wanted, and the festival provided us with amazing memories that we hadn’t even expected.
And yes, we’ll be back for more next year.

Members of The Steel Wheels bring down the house with their rendition of “The Weight.” Hundreds of fans lifted their voices in harmony into the night at the Walnut Valley Festival.
Kim Swansen/TSnews