5 Years of Blue Ox Bliss: Blue Ox Music Festival 2019 Review
5 years of Blue Ox Bliss: Blue Ox Music Festival 2019
Blue Ox Music Festival celebrated its 5th anniversary June 13-15, 2019. The festival, hosted by Pert Near Sandstone, is held at the Whispering Pines campground in beautiful Eau Claire Wisconsin.
As attendees of all 5 installations of Blue Ox Music Festival, we travel over 600 miles for this annual Americana, bluegrass, folk, roots, and jamgrass bash. We had high expectations this year and Blue Ox did not disappoint! Like each previous year, Blue Ox managed to gather the top, multi-genre musical talent from across the continent for a jubilee that compares to no other.
Despite chilly temperatures and a mighty storm, the festival pulled together the largest crowd to date and threw one massive party!
Blue Ox Music Festival: The Venue
The Whispering Pines Campground, owned by the Bischel family, offers around 75 acres of wooded area and prairie for camping. This allows for plenty of space for the fairly small festival to spread out but still remain close to the main attractions. There are reserved electric areas for RV’s and a quiet family camping area. A shuttle service is even available to take you back and forth to nearby hotels if camping just isn’t your thing!
We arrived early to set up camp (we’re the ones with the blow-up furniture) and give our buddy, Don, a hand with the Joyful Bubbles tent. Joyful Bubbles has been a staple at the festival for several years and this year’s theme was “Don’t under do it.” Potted plants, candles, dream catchers, paintings and wind chimes made for a splendid site, but it was the elaborate lighting that really put it over the top!
Blue Ox Music Festival has 3 stages for music. The main and side stages are located close together in the bowl, running alternating schedules, so you never have to miss any action. The 3rd stage is located in the woods and hosts late night sets after the bowl closes. Blue Ox is a family-friendly event with folks of all ages offering lots of activities for kids as well as Yoga and music workshops. The festival also has a great selection of vendors for food, drink, and merchandise.
The Music at Blue Ox Music Festival
Fortunately, we caught Pert Near Sandstone’s sound check Thursday afternoon (even though they wouldn’t actually play on stage until Saturday night). We can’t stress enough how amazing these guys are. Pert Near is the force fueling the festival and there was no better way to start the day. Hearing those boy’s warm-up really got us amped for all that was to come.
A Banjo playing duo, The Lowest Pair, kicked off the main stage Thursday with a sweet collection of love songs. This quirky couple, with a unique folk sound, seemed to play as much for each other as they did to the crowd and their chemistry was infectious! Late in the set, they welcomed Pert Near’s clogger, Matt Cartier, on stage for a lovely version of “Darlin’ Cory.”
The main stage gained momentum throughout the evening with performances from the Lil Smokies, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades and the Infamous Stringdusters, each band reminding us why we love live bluegrass music.
Friday started off strong with a performance by Sarah Shook and the Disarmers. Blending honky-tonk and punk rock, Sarah brought a surprising and unique electric sound to the stage, far different from what festival goers were used to.
Jeff Austin, making his annual appearance, owned the stage with his usual high energy mando pickin performance. Jeff demanded a great deal of audience participation for the song, “Boogie,” and while we were all loving the show, no one had more fun than Jeff himself. “Seriously, thousands of people making farting noises made my 14-year-old self, jumping up and down on my bed wanting to do this for a living, SO FREAKING HAPPY!”
The Del McCoury Band, dressed in their dapper suits, played traditional bluegrass songs for an eager crowd. Unfortunately, Mother Nature just couldn’t handle it and the stage was quickly cleared. The clouds let loose a downpour that would last several hours, creating a river through the festival grounds. Music was put on hold for a while as the Blue Ox crew scrambled to save the stage as we all awaited the storm to pass.
Back at camp, we dropped down our pop-up canopy, trying (and failing) to keep our furniture dry. A few friends came by for shelter and we made the best of it. We had to use solo cups to scoop out several inches of water that had pooled in our tent! All over the campground, neighbors gathered together to help each other out by providing cover, offering a beer or saving tents from getting blown away!
It’s no surprise that the Blue Ox team came up with a seamless plan, allowing all remaining bands to play, with the exception of our host band. Pert Near Sandstone gave up their Friday spot in order to accommodate their guests, knowing their true fans would stick around for their Saturday show. Have we mentioned how awesome these guys are?
Despite the storm flooding the bowl and damaging equipment, the show went on! The Travelin’ McCourys graced the side stage to play a set dedicated to the king of newgrass, Sam Bush. Fruition and Trampled by Turtles both played flawlessly on the main stage despite primitive lighting and shortened set times. These bands are pros and really know how to go with the flow.
For the 3rd and final day of the festival, the stages were back in tip-top shape! Yeah, we got a little muddy, but that’s one of the traditions that makes Blue Ox so special!
On the side stage, first timers, The Wooks, gave us a fantastic performance. These guys are an incredibly talented, award winning Kentucky bluegrass band. They blend traditional sounds and jamgrass in a perfect mix of originals like “Little Sandy Queen” and “’Helechawa” as well as fun cover tunes “Dear Prudence,” “The Shape I’m In” and “Midnight Moonlight.”
Following the Wooks on the side stage Saturday night were the Peoples Brothers Band, also making a Blue Ox debut. This energetic rhythm and blues band totally switched gears and got funky with a set that had us all dancing to their rendition of “Shakedown Street.”
The main stage had its fair share of energy as well with The Dead South, a boot stomping, acoustic playing ensemble from Saskatchewan. Fusing folk, rock and bluegrass while moving in perfect synchrony with their instruments, these guys totally blew us away!
Next, Billy Strings shredded his guitar while Jarrod Walker, Billy’s mando player, had his brother Cory Walker join the band on banjo for a jam session that was ON FIRE!
Later, the highly anticipated Pert Near set featured a captivating aerial hoop show by the Torch Sisters as the band sang into a single microphone and played our favorite old-timey melodies. Ending the evening was a beautiful performance by Railroad Earth. Dancing hobos flooded the bowl as we savored these final moments of the festival in complete awe of Railroad Earth’s talent.
In addition to all of these unbelievable musicians, each day ended with late night shows on the Backwoods Stage.
We caught performances by Armchair Boogies, Black River Revue, Cascade Crescendo and Horseshoes & Hand Grenades. One of our favorite memories was when Horseshoes brought out a few of the Pert Near guys and played “Liza Jane.” (We recently rescued a kitten and that’s what we named her!)
For those with the gusto to keep up, late-late night jams transpired at the Potluck Pickin’ campsite.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to attend this fine festy, we want to make it known that at any given moment you have the pleasure of hearing pickin’ throughout the festival grounds; one of the reasons Blue Ox is so dear in all our hearts.
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