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Blue Ox Music Festival organizers confident lineup will draw crowds despite weather forecast

Fest organizers confident lineup of music, beer will draw crowds despite predictions for soggy start to weekend

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    Crews prepare the stage Wednesday for today’s premiere of the Blue Ox Music Festival at Whispering Pines Campground, town of Union. Attendees will be directed to park on the Country Jam USA grounds, east of the bluegrass festival bowl.

    Staff photo by Anna Mateffy
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Jim Bischel isn’t letting a predicted rainfall today, the opening of the Blue Ox Music Festival, dampen his spirits about the prospects for the first-time Eau Claire bluegrass event.

“It’s an all-new event,” Bischel said. “We can hardly do wrong.”

Bischel is excited about the festival, which will feature bluegrass, folk and Americana music, regardless of the 1 to 2 inches of rain that could fall on the event’s opening day. The three-day fest, which Bischel decided to organize, will take place at Whispering Pines Campground near the Country Jam USA grounds, the largest bluegrass venue in the Midwest, he said.  

The campground is well-suited to absorb water, Bischel said, and runoff will be helped by water pumps and hills surrounding the campground area. 

“We’re not anticipating any issues with that,” he said, noting he expects a large crowd even if rain falls. 

“This is a hardy group of fans,” he said, laughing. “They’re pretty tolerant.”

About 75 acres of campground space, plus the festival bowl, are prepared to host an estimated 6,000 to 8,000 attendees arriving from most of the 50 U.S. states, said LeAnn Walbeck, Blue Ox director of sales and marketing. The campground just outside the fenced area is reserved for quiet family camping. Behind the log cabin is about 55 acres of general camping, Bischel said. 

Blue Ox organizers expect about 90 percent of attendees to camp on the grounds. 

Bischel said the Blue Ox crew went out of its way to deliver two all-star lineups, both onstage and in the beer trucks. Beer options will include 11 brands, such as Leinenkugel’s, Spotted Cow, Bell’s and Lagunitas. 

“This is a craft beer crowd,” he said. “We have a stellar lineup.” 

For the past few years Bischel has been interested in starting a bluegrass fest, and he decided the timing was right to launch one this year. Much of the planning was in collaboration with Minneapolis-based band Pert Near Sandstone, which Bischel saw perform in Denver. 

Blue Ox fest campers, including Jason Powell, 38, of La Crosse, began setting up their sites Wednesday. Powell said the festival’s lineup, which includes high-end musicians such as the Del McCoury Band and Yonder Mountain String Band, attracted him to the event. 

“I think it’s just fantastic, and I hope it grows and continues to grow every year,” he said, pleased that the venue offered an opportunity for bands to assemble in one place. “Once (people) get here, they’re going to love it.” 

Dohms can be reached at 715-833-9206, 800-236-7077 or elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com.


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