Blue Ox Music Festival has found a way to offer fans a taste of the event while social distancing rules and guidelines remain in effect.
The bluegrass-Americana show, presented at Whispering Pines Campground in the town of Union outside of Eau Claire, had been set for June, but because of concerns related to the COVID-19 pandemic has been rescheduled for Aug. 27 through 29.
But on Friday, June 12, and Saturday, June 13, organizers will offer the livestreamed “Blue Ox Music Festival: Live From the Pines.” The virtual event can be seen from 1 to 10:30 p.m. on each of the days through the official festival pages on Facebook and YouTube.
Some of the acts will be streamed live from the Whispering Pines stage: Pert Near Sandstone, who host the festival, will perform two nights onstage, along with artist friends Charlie Parr, Lissie and Them Coulee Boys. Pert Near Sandstone will be celebrating the June 12 release of their new album, “Rising Tide.”
Performing sets from their hometown will be other stars of the genre, including Sam Bush, Del McCoury, The Travelin’ McCourys, Lillie Mae and Molly Tuttle. More acts are expected to be announced.
Jim Bischel, president of the Blue Ox Music Festival, calls it “the closest thing to a live festival that we think will be produced possibly even this summer.”
The idea for the livestreamed event came from discussions including the staff and the artists.
“We’ve been tossing around things to fill our time, I guess, and by the same token give our fans and people the best experience that we can think of in light of the situation right now,” Bischel said. “We keep adding to it and coming up with new things every day, and I think the product that we put out is going to be a lot of fun for everybody.”
The artists were happy to take part.
“I think the whole industry is looking for unique and creative ways to stay in front of people right now,” Bischel said. “We’re hoping this goes over, and hopefully it gives (artists) an opportunity that they haven’t had during this lockdown.”
Tickets are not being sold to the event, and the general public will not be allowed at the concert site. To fund the effort, organizers are seeking donations. The hope, Bischel said, is that the money raised will be sufficient to cover their costs for the weekend; to support the service groups that normally work at the festival; and to give a stipend to the artists playing during the two days.
Along with Live From the Pines, plans remain to hold the sixth annual Blue Ox Festival Aug. 27-29, but organizers are assessing what health officials are recommending.
“First and foremost, what we would need would be an OK from the county to go ahead with it,” Bischel said. The next steps would be to see that, even if they received the go-ahead, what kind of restrictions would be in place. Then, “We would have to decide if we think that we can put on a safe and responsible show for our fans, for the artists and for ourselves also,” he said.
Finally they would want to determine if attendees were willing to turn out, keeping in mind that Bischel has often expressed his admiration for the event’s loyal fans, noting their loyal attendance, sense of fun and responsible conduct while they’re on the grounds.
“I’ve said it 100 times and I’ll probably say it 100 more,” he said, “We do have the greatest fans that I have seen for a venue. But that doesn’t mean they’re going to come out if they’re not feeling comfortable about it. So I guess we really have to see what happens. We would love to be able to do a show. It’s what we do ... but we are going to be smart about it.”