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Roots and Bluegrass Festival takes over downtown

April 8, 2015

The city of River Falls will host its fifth annual Roots and Bluegrass Festival on April 9-12.

The four-day music festival will take place throughout downtown River Falls, bringing to life local and regional roots and bluegrass music. Attendees have the opportunity to partake in free jam sessions and workshops where they can learn and hone their skills in this genre of music.

The festival opens on Thursday, April 9, at Junior’s Bar & Restaurant with Walter Croll and Friends. Croll is a music student at UWRF and teaches at Brickhouse Music; he plays guitar, viola, bass, cello, mandolin and dobro.

“There’s something about the festival that is hard to explain; the music, atmosphere and people instantaneously puts a smile on your face,” said Chris Blasius, the chief executive officer for the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau.

Johnnie’s Bar will host King Wilkie’s Dream on April 10. King Wilkie’s Dream is a Minnesota-based bluegrass band. According to its website, the band plays a variation of bluegrass, blues, swing, Americana country, tin-pan alley, old time and some pop.

The beer- and wine-tasting event will also be held on April 10, featuring Pushing Chain, which is the only event that costs money. This event costs $20 in advance, available at the chamber office, DeVine Liquor, Dick’s Hometown Liquor and Junior’s Bar & Restaurant. This is the second year for this event with the opportunity to sample local craft beer and wine.

“It has always been our vision to expand the festival to include music on Thursday evening. We ultimately hope to include programming Thursday evening, all day Friday and Saturday, and possibly add more Sunday morning,” said Jeff Wesley, a festival committee member.

Junior’s Bar & Restaurant will have its second year of beer and wine tasting on April 10 followed by live music from Pushing Chain and Barley Jacks with Brian Wicklund. Pushing Chain is a regional band formed in 2012 by Boyd Blomberg and Adam Moe. Pushing Chain has its own original music but also does covers from artists like Bob Dylan, Tom Waits and Nina Simone. The Barley Jacks are a local band with members Joe Cruz, Kevin Rowe, Joel Arpin and Brian Wicklund. The Barley Jacks play instruments like the fiddle, guitar, bass and drums with backgrounds in Celtic, blues, bluegrass, R&B and bebop.

Other venues include the South Forks Café with Rush River Ramblers, an old-time string band from Spring Valley, Wisconsin; Brickhouse Music with Snap, Tap and Clap; Family Fresh Market with a bluegrass group called the Fish Heads; and Funktion Junktion with Paint the Town, an activity for participants to paint on miniature canvases.

On April 11, there will be the Wisconsin State Flatpicking Guitar Championship where participants can compete for a prize by playing four instrumental numbers in traditional fiddle tune or bluegrass style. According to the Upper Midwest Flatpicking Competition website, contestants are encouraged to preregister, although registrations will be accepted on site. The top five contestants will advance to a final round.

Brickhouse Music and the River Falls Chamber of Commerce sponsor the contest. First place wins a new Larrivee D-40 valued at $1699, second place receives $200 and third place wins $100.

“Whether it’s your first or fifth time attending the River Falls bluegrass festival, it’s the perfect outing with family and friends to hear bluegrass music on every corner,” said Judy Berg, River Falls Chamber of Commerce tourism sales marketing manager.

Nearly every event is free and open for the public with the River Falls Chamber of Commerce and Tourism Bureau hosting the festival thanks to volunteers from the community.