5 Reasons To Attend Blue Ox Music Festival
Blue Ox Music Festival 2018:
Hosted by Pert Near Sandstone, Blue Ox held its 4th Annual music festival June 14-16, 2018 in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.
Like its three previous installments, this year’s festival had one of the hottest bluegrass and roots lineups. Blue Ox Music Festival is held in a gorgeous location and is jam-packed with fun. If you haven’t had a chance to attend this fine fest, perhaps this list will convince you to take the plunge!
#1: The Venue: Whispering Pines Campground
As we enter into the Blue Ox Music Festival grounds, we are greeted by hundreds of towering pine trees that engulf Whispering Pines Campground. What a lovely sight! We drive through the winding paths to find the “just right” spot that will be home for the next few days. It doesn’t take long to spot Chad and Brandi, our neighbors from last year. We immediately get to work setting up camp so we can spend the rest of the day relaxing and catching up with friends before the music starts.
Later on, we decide to take a stroll around the campground. We check out the RV and family camping areas, finding a few new friends along the way. Then, after walking through the seemingly endless pines, we make our way down to the bowl to check out the stage – and it is glorious! The anticipation builds knowing that in a few short hours we’ll be watching some of our favorite bands perform right here.
We look to stage right and notice the remainders of the old weeping willow tree that was sadly cut down. But in its place is a beautifully crafted, larger-than-life banjo crafted from recycled metal. This piece of 3-dimensional art, which we like to call “the weeping banjo” was created by artist Steve Bateman. It will become this year’s Blue Ox mascot, as everyone wants to pose in front of its glory for a photo.
Blue Ox Music Festival offers some pretty cool amenities. The log cabin located between the main and side stages is a private lounge for “Paul Bunyan” pass holders. Inside, they have access to a full bar, proper bathrooms, and air conditioning! Blue Ox also provides water stations in several locations for all festivarians to stay hydrated in the sweltering heat and minimize pollution (we didn’t see a single plastic water bottle in the campground). Another noteworthy subject is the pristine porta-pots. Cesspool cleaners do a great job working round the clock to keep those toilets squeaky-clean!
We must also mention the impressive food vendors. Deliciously fried avocados from Gypsy Soul, savory cheese curds from the Hubb, mouthwatering wonton tacos from Umami Bites and scrumptious ribs from BBQ wagon. We do not go hungry!
#2: Blue Ox: It’s a Family Affair!
One of the greatest things about Blue Ox Music Festival is that it’s a family-friendly event for all ages. Whether you’re bringing the kids or your parents, there is something for EVERYONE! The Family Fun Area has face painting, sing-a-longs and crafts. At the Eau Claire-Stream, a state of the art, shiny aluminum RV, you’ll find a photo booth, caricature drawings, glass blowing and performance art. And we can’t forget the Joyful Bubbles tent – vibrant, bright and inviting. It is nearly impossible to walk by without grabbing a wand and making a few bubbles of your own. Then there is Don, the man behind the magic, who grabs his bucket of mix and an entourage of anxious children and strolls out to the bowl to make millions of bubbles that fill the sky. Don’s wandering bubbles can be seen throughout the bowl and even bring joy to the musicians as they play on stage.
For those early risers, Morning Yoga is offered in the bowl. Many festivarians show up to engage in this mind, body and soul activity, fighting the clouds away with their many sun salutations while enjoying soothing sounds of musical glasses.
#3: Blue Ox has the Highest Caliber of Music
The most obvious reason Blue Ox Music Festival is the best is, well, the music. Each year the lineup consists of some of the greatest acts in the Bluegrass, Roots, Folk and Americana scenes. Headliners like Sam Bush, Jeff Austin and Greensky Bluegrass come back year after year to rock the stage.
The Last Revel kicks off this year’s festival. Throughout the evening they play three sets featuring existing and future band members. Their performances are energetic, exciting and emotional and truly set the stage for what this music festival is all about! Brothers Comatose play the side stage with an awesome Americana performance. On the main stage are high energy sets from Them Coulee Boys, Billy Strings, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, and Sam Bush.
Day 2 begins with Lindsay Lou on the main stage. Her gentle voice and stunning talent bring in an early crowd. Also on the main stage are flawless performances by Mipso and Mandolin Orange, both from Chapel Hill, with their lovely vocal harmonies and heartfelt lyrics. On the side-stage are delightful sets from Jack Klatt and Kind Country. Then the highly anticipated Steeldrivers show is amplified by drops of rain that cool everyone down and make us jump with excitement. Their set is unfortunately cut short due to flashes of lightning. The festival takes a slight break as the storm quickly passes.
The Tillers are able to get the schedule back on track with a great boot stompin’ performance on the side stage. Next, on the main stage come bluegrass legends, The Del McCoury Band, all wearing neatly pressed suits and proving that 50 years after releasing Del McCoury Sings Bluegrass, Del McCoury can STILL sing bluegrass! (And we STILL have Nashville Cats stuck in our heads.)
Also, to hit the Blue Ox main stage Friday night are fantastic sets from Grammy award winners The Infamous Stringdusters, our hosts Pert Near Sandstone and Greensky Bluegrass with a spectacular light show and psychedelic sound. The Kitchen Dwellers close the side stage on the second day with two killer galaxy-grass sets.
Chicken Wire Empire blows us away as the up-and-coming group kick off Day 3, getting everyone amped for a jam-packed day ahead. Wonderful performances by Buffalo Gospel, Pistol Whippin’ Party Penguins, and The Lil Smokies grace the side stage throughout the day. On the main stage, iconic banjo player Danny Barnes, quirky Charlie Parr, and the mesmerizing Jeff Austin all play incredible sets. Also, on the main stage are splendid performances by Tyler Childers, Steep Canyon Rangers, and Margo Price. Pert Near Sandstone takes the stage again and the bowl is full and everyone is dancing. Each time J breaks a string (which is often!) we raise our glasses and make a toast to this great music festival and the folks involved. Finally, The Devil Makes Three close the main stage with a blend of blues, country, and ragtime that keeps everyone on their feet.
#4: Backwoods, Late Night Pickin’ at Blue Ox
In addition to the two side-by-side stages in the bowl, Blue Ox Music Festival has a late night, backwoods stage with powerful performances by Circus No. 9, The Last Revel, Barbaro, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Charlie Parr, and Pert Near Sandstone along with many special guests playing deep into the night. This stage has a completely different vibe. It’s small and intimate, so you don’t want to miss it!
New this year at Blue Ox Music Festival are music workshops, also located at the backwoods stage. In the morning, members of Pert Near, Them Coulee Boys, and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades get together to discuss songwriting, play old-time fiddle tunes and talk about the call dancing that traditionally goes with it. They may have even dropped a few hints about incorporating the dancing in future workshops!
One thing that separates Blue Ox from other festivals is the pickin’. At all hours of day and night, stringed instruments can be heard throughout the festival grounds. Never have we seen this many festivarians bring their own instruments and play impromptu sets for neighbors and passerby.
#5: The People, The Dancing, The Vibe at Blue Ox
A major reason we keep making the long haul from Ohio to Wisconsin every year is because of the people of Blue Ox Music Festival. We have made many lifelong friends at this festival and plan to continue for years to come. The Blue Ox lineup brings the best kind of people together, musicians and fans alike. The type of people who are loving, caring, kind and enjoy great music!
It’s common to see the musicians making their way around the grounds, having a drink with friends in the crowd and listening to the other groups play. They tend to stick around for a day or two because the music is just that good. When the people of Blue Ox arrive at the pines, we leave our stress, drama, and heartache at the gate and spend the days smiling, laughing, loving and DANCING!
Sunday morning, as we prepare to depart Blue Ox Music Festival, our cheeks sore from 3 straight days of smiling and laughing, and our bodies worn from non-stop boogying, we are not sad that it’s over. We are grateful to have made many new friends and heard so much inspiring music.
This makes us happy and lucky to be a part of the BEST music fest experience!