For at least two reasons, a bluegrass festival serves as a fitting means of supporting Eau Claire-based community radio station WHYS.
To start with, bluegrass is among the many genres the station plays, notably during the Saturday afternoon “Bluegrass Ramble.”
Second, the station relies on the efforts of volunteers to continue serving the region on a daily basis as well as to run the 12th annual WHYS Radio Bluegrass Festival.
As board of directors member Lori Chilefone explained, “The festival is really run all on volunteer energy.”
The event will set up Saturday at Lake Altoona County Park.
“There might not be one lead on this,” Chilefone said. “We’re all holding up a pillar.”
Musicians from Wisconsin, Minnesota and the state of Washington will take the stage for the eight-hour festival.
Opening the festivities are The Seeger Boys, an Eau Claire-based group with four albums to their credit. The “home-grown, straight ahead old school bluegrass band” (as described on their Facebook page) will perform twice on the program: a bluegrass gospel set at noon and a traditional bluegrass performance at 3 p.m.
“It’s an honor to have The Seeger Boys return,” Chilefone said.
Another act coming back to the festival is The Lowest Pair. The banjo-playing duo consists of Kendl Winter, who hails from Washington, and Palmer T. Lee of Minneapolis. They tour nationally and have released four albums.
“They’re charming,” Chilefone said.
Headlining the show will be Minneapolis-based No Man’s String Band. They released their debut album, “Let the Truth Be Told,” in 2013, and in 2015 they were named champions of the Minnesota Bluegrass and Old Time Music Association’s Race for a Place band contest.
“That’ll be a fun ending to the festival,” she said, noting the group’s up-tempo performance style.
The lineup includes the following:
• Olive Sings, a Rice Lake duo featuring Seth Gamble and Kayla, who also will perform twice: at 1 and 4 p.m.
• The Root Tappers, an Eau Claire-based trio consisting of singer/songwriter and guitar and ukulele player Lee Mynett, singer and bass and guitar player Charlie Malec, and singer and guitar and slide resonator player Mike Garrity.
• The Woodland Spring, a trio.
• Noah John & The Ringing Iron, a Wisconsin-based group that features Noah John, who sings and plays guitar and banjo, and Melissa Fernandez, who plays bass and sings.
But the festival offers more than music. This year, for instance, a kubb tournament is part of the fun.
“I think Eau Claire is always looking for reasons to play kubb,” Chilefone said, noting that the city hosts a championship for the Nordic yard game. This year that tournament, held last month, featured 128 teams with about 460 players from 18 states, Washington, D.C., and Sweden.
The director of the championships, Eric Anderson, is even playing in the WHYS kubb event.
“I think it’s a nice break for him to just step aside (from organizing duties) and actually play the game in Eau Claire,” Chilefone said.
Three or more players per team are needed, and the tournament is limited to 16 teams. Pitches will be shaded. Entry fee is $30 and includes entry to the festival for players.
To register for the kubb tournament, which starts at 11 a.m., go to whysradio.org.
Taking pride in its family friendly emphasis, the festival will feature a children’s area, and plenty of swings will be next to the seating area.
One of the stars of the show is the setting, as the park offers shade, swimming in the lake and is on a major bicycle route.
“For me the park is very shady and relaxed,” Chilefone said. Plus, the style of music featured goes well with the surroundings, in her view.
“I think (bluegrass) just appeals to a broad audience because it’s rich but it’s not too heavy, it’s not too light, it’s somewhere right in the middle,” she said.
Food and beverages will be available, including rice and beans, brats, hot dogs, locally produced craft beer, root beer floats and snacks, with indoor seating as an option for dining. Some of the volunteers will dedicate their efforts to the culinary offerings, Chilefone said. For example, Meg Nord and Paul Kaldjian will make gourmet hot dogs, which they refer to as “haute dogs.”
The food, music and fun are all in the service of the radio station’s mission.
Some of the expenses that are part of the station’s operation include rent, technology upgrades, licensing for the music and the free training offered to people who are interested in getting involved in the station.
Besides “Bluegrass Ramble,” WHYS presents more than 50 programs. The music broadcasts feature genres such as jazz, roots, blues, world music and rock styles, including metal. Public affairs shows focus on issues such as the environment, world news and politics.
Chilefone became involved in WHYS after attending a presentation by investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill at UW-Eau Claire. She recalled Scahill commenting that corporations’ control of media outlets restricts journalistic work. When an audience member asked what citizens can do in response, he responded: “Get behind your community radio station,” Chilefone recalled.
“I just feel like WHYS radio is a place that I can easily give my time because it’s right here in town,” she said.