Bluegrass on the Water

WHYS Bluegrass Festival to fill Lake Altoona Park

Marni Kaldjian, photos by Frank H. Robinson |

NOT ONE STRING WASTED! The East Hill Bluegrass Band will once again grace the stage at the annual WHYS Bluegrass Festival.
NOT ONE STRING WASTED! The East Hill Bluegrass Band will once again grace the stage
at the annual WHYS Bluegrass Festival.

“And if it weren’t for bluegrass music, I’d go crazy,” sings musician Tommy Webb. Banjo pickin’ lovers have nothing to worry about – WHYS community radio is here to fill the bluegrass deficiencies that lie within you. The fifth annual WHYS Bluegrass Festival is to be held on August 25, from noon to 9pm at Lake Altoona County Park. 

“Bluegrass music has become popular with the younger generation, but its roots go back to people who are 70, 80 years old,” explains WHYS Bluegrass Committee member Todd Adams on the decision to feature the genre. “It’s a good way to unite all the generations in one event.”

“The festival is more than just bands. It’s ... a way for people to get together with likeminded folks and music lovers.” – Todd Adams, on the WHYS Bluegrass Festival’s fifth year

The focus of the fiddlin’ fiesta is indeed the musical performances Acts include Eau Claire’s own Stoop Singers, The Seeger Boys and The East Hill Bluegrass Band. Adams sums them up as “great bands that always put on a good show.” Out of town performers such as the Roe Family Singers, Minnesota Blue, and many more come possibly due to the free food and beer offered to performers, but really, according to Adams, “for the support of community radio. Also, it’s an event where they can have their own families come in a comfortable environment.”

Added to the plethora of pluckers is the Ukelele Klub of Eau Claire and WHYS’ very own Whys Guys, a ragtag group (of WHYS deejays and volunteers) that reunites once a year for the event.

WHYS Radio, Eau Claire’s local low-power FM station (96.3), has improved and adjusted the festival every year, largely thanks to growing community support. The number of sponsors has risen, and several local businesses are selling tickets. Much of the food and ingredients are donated from local grocery stores and cafes, and the handcrafted beer comes from Menomonie’s Lucette Brewing Company and Tall Grass Brewery out of Manhattan, Kansas. Puerto Rican rice and beans, vegetable curry on rice, Wisconsin brats and Wisconsin-made root beer floats are just some of the featured vittles. Aside from food, the fifth year is “a milestone.” 

“We’ve learned some things from the past festivals, and it seems to be getting easier...and it’s kind of nice we’ve made it to five,” says Adams.

Kiddie fun is another focus of the fete. Face painting, a big hit last year, will be making a comeback, along with kid-geared bluegrass music from some of the artists. The park features life size play structures that offer opportunities galore for children’s shenanigans. Adult fun, aside from the booze and the bass, includes rousing games of Kubb and the chance to meet more people with similar interests. (Though no speed dating is involved, a sunset beachside might be just the ticket). There will even be a fiddle contest for a cash prize, to be held at 2pm, and anyone is invited to show up and perform. “The festival is more than just the bands. It’s ... a way for people to get together with likeminded folks and music lovers, with people who enjoy and support community radio,” adds Adams.

Set in the serenity of Lake Altoona County Park, the location is prime. Parking is free with admission, and Boy Scouts from Altoona Troop 90 will volunteer their time as attendants.

Most importantly, volunteerism, especially on the part of WHYS deejays, makes the event possible. “The only reason we are doing it is that we really believe in community radio,”explains Adams. “It’s nice to give a voice to smaller bands, and different points of view that might not necessarily be supported by the mass media.” You may even get to chat with your favorite WHYS radio personality, all while fulfilling your bluegrass needs.