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Upcoming bluegrass festival offers musical opportunities

March 28, 2014

The River Falls Roots and Bluegrass Festival will take place April 4-6 in downtown River Falls, and while many students may not know a lot about bluegrass music it is still an opportunity to take in some Midwestern culture, eat diverse local food and jam to some good old fashioned guitar picking.

The festival is sponsored by the River Falls Area Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau. According to Judy Berg, the Chamber’s tourism sales marketing manager, at least 2,000 people are expected to take part in next weekend’s events. Berg hopes that their recent efforts through target marketing and social media will bring more attendees than in years previous.

“Each year we try to add something new to the festival, this year it’s the beer and wine tasting event,” Berg said.

The beer and wine tasting event will kick off the festival on Friday night at 6 p.m. The event will be located at Riverwalk Square at Mall on Main and will showcase regional microbrews, international wines and local craft beer, cheeses and meats. The festival is free for all, but this particular event does cost $20.

According to Berg, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s data predicts that each individual who stays the night during the festival will spend an average of $180. For those who do not stay the night will still spend an average of $58 within the community.

“Anytime you can bring in tourism to the city it’s very effective,” Berg said.

There are also two main performing acts that cost $30 on Friday and Saturday night at Junior’s Bar and Restaurant. This year’s acts will be The Rambling Rooks and Pert Near Sandstone.

Pert Near Sandstone, of Minneapolis, will take the stage Saturday night and are expected to draw a large crowd. They have played at such historic venues as First Avenue, Orpheum Theater and the Cedar Cultural Center, all of which are in the heart of Minneapolis’ music scene.

Pert Near Sandstone’s six studio album, “The Hardest Part of Leaving,” hits limited stores on April 15, so festival attendees can expect to hear some new material from a long-traveled, experienced bluegrass band.

The Rambling Rooks, a trio of skilled musicians, will take the stage Friday night. The Rambling Rooks are made up of a bassist, guitarist and a mandolinist, who all shared fame in the 1990x with the Lonesome River Band.

Free jam sessions will be available for any local musicians willing to participate, as well as 10 other free concerts from local bluegrass bands.

“The jam sessions are a casual environment for everyone to hang out, perform and share their musical talents,” Berg said.

One of the great functions of the festival is that it offers free banjo, ukulele and clogging workshops on Saturday afternoon at Brickhouse Music. The banjo was recently made famous by the ever-popular British folk band Mumford & Sons, while the ukulele is best known as a Hawaiian instrument.

“Music festivals in general can be good ways to hear lots of music at once,” said Gail Olszewski, lecturer of music at UW-River Falls.

Olszewski is an expert piano player and has participated in many similar music festivals, most notably the 2009 Boston Early Music Festival.

“If you’re not familiar with that particular genre, it can be quite educational,” Olszewski said of music festivals. “For attending musicians, (festivals) can provide good networking opportunities and for those performing, good visibility and publicity.”

Joseph Hagedorn, another UWRF lecturer of music, is an expert guitarist and has performed in many states with violinist Leslie Shank as the “Shank-Hagedorn Duo” since 1989. Hagedorn also won the 1990 Guitar Foundation of America solo competition, which launched his performing career.

“I do not have that much knowledge of bluegrass music except that I enjoy it,” Hagedorn said. “I think in general that music festivals are an excellent venue for all kinds of music and I hope this one is a big hit.”

The Roots and Bluegrass Festival will have two competitions. The first is the upper Midwest flat-picking guitar championship, which will be held on Saturday evening; a singer/songwriter competition will also be held. Last year’s flat-picking champion won a handcrafted guitar valued at $2,800; a similar prize will be up for grabs this year.

“Bluegrass is growing among younger generations,” Berg said. “It’s a good chance for UWRF students to come out a give it a try.”