When the 2020 Walnut Valley Festival was cancelled due to COVID-19, it upended plans for thousands of fans, some who have made the annual trip to Winfield for years.
The Bennett Brothers-Colby Camp, located in the West Campground, was established in 1987 and hosts around 80 members, including those who camp onsite and some who stay in other area lodgings.
Campers Bob McLemore, David Prilliman and Blake McLemore talked to the CourierTraveler Monday about what they missed most when last year’s event was cancelled, and what they are looking forward to now that the music has returned.
Bob McLemore said it was nice to see everyone together again at the Winfield Fairgrounds. Some of the group members had a contingency plan last year, and ended up camping at Wilson Lake when the festival would have normally taken place, he said.
Prilliman said he’s been coming to the WVF for 30 years, and is “really glad to be back.” Even if they camp in a different location, it’s not the same as actually being at the festival, he said.
Even though some of the camp members see each other throughout the year, the WVF is like one big family reunion. “It’s more than just a weekend,” he said.
Blake McLemore said he gets a lot of enjoyment from just sitting and visiting with people, and one of his favorite things is watching his kids experience the WVF the way he did when he was young.
Bob McLemore said he most looks forward to jamming in the campgrounds.
“If you have a banjo and a bass, you can make it rock,” he said. The cam’s music of choice includes bluegrass, cowboy songs, the Beatles, the Eagles and more.
Blake McLemore said he doesn’t know if COVID had much of an effect on their camp, as most people who couldn’t come were unable to do so because of other reasons. Their members include a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated people. “We’re equal opportunity,” he said.
Before last year he only missed one festival, when he was around 10 years old. Blake said his parents tried to recreate a similar experience in the backyard, but it wasn’t the same.
Bob McLemore said their camp converges at the fairgrounds for two reasons: family and music.
He said the local residents are always very helpful and nice, and he appreciates their kindness as he knows it can be a strain to have so many people in town for the event.
The 49th Walnut Valley Festival kicks off on Thursday.