I have been gorging myself on western and midwestern small-town culture, since retiring. In the last few weeks, I’ve been to a rodeo, a county fair, and Charlie Adams Day (a festival honoring a town legend and his horse). Last week I attended a huge event that shows just how influential a small town can be.
Winfield is a little town in rural Kansas that was the home of the now defunct but much-beloved Lutheran school St. John’s College. It was also the home of a man named S. L. Mossman. He made guitars. Really good guitars. In the 1960s, more and more people wanted them, and his business grew, though he refused to mass produce the guitars and kept making them by hand. After awhile, his company sponsored a competition there in Winfield for the best flat-pick guitar player. Around that event grew a festival, with more championships (in finger-style guitar, mandolin, banjo, dulcimer, autoharp, and fiddle) and performances in bluegrass, folk, and other kinds of acoustic music. Thus was born the Walnut Valley Festival, which has launched the careers of countless musicians and has become one of the premier events in American music.
My brother Jimmy, author of the most-read post ever on this blog, and I went to Winfield last week for the festival along with my friend the musician, novelist, and pastor, the right Rev. Fred Baue. After the jump, I will tell you of our adventures, my musical discoveries with YouTube videos, and some of what I learned. [Read more…]