The Walnut Valley Festival is nothing short of amazing. While bluegrass is not my favorite genre of music, I can’t help being mesmerized by the skill of the musicians. 

I enjoy visiting the vendors and sampling the many varieties of food.  I like to sit in the grandstand and watch the talented performers. But my favorite part of the festival takes place in the Pecan Grove area.

The atmosphere of the Pecan Grove is completely different than the main part of the festival. It just has a different feel, a unique openness.

The area is jammed with RVs and tents. You will find everything from the big units with slide outs, to small, one-person tents. The campsites are fascinating. Some are very elaborate. One campsite had a full living room, complete with couches and a coffee table, set up under an open tent. The campers would fill their plates from the makeshift kitchen and return to the outdoor living room to enjoy each other’s company.

Some campsites were very large and occupied by families who meet at the festival and camp together each year. Huge banners and elaborate signs marked the entryways to their campsites. I could not help being amazed at the creativity and innovation being demonstrated by many of those groups. 

One group of campers had taken a parachute and made a huge canopy over their campsite. A lot of people were huddled under that canopy during one of the cloudbursts, and all were welcome.

While the campsites were all different and unique, they all had one thing in common. Everyone was having a wonderful time, and they came from everywhere. I met people from Texas, West Virginia, Colorado, Florida, and every group I met was open, inviting and friendly. 

One individual was a little too friendly. I met him while on my way to one of the stages. He offered me a swig from his whisky bottle. I politely declined. 

As a news reporter, I was walking around looking for a feature story. I approached many of the campsites just to visit with the occupants, and every time I was met by people who made me feel welcome, who made me feel like a friend. 

During the three hours that I strolled through that campground, I saw happy, smiling, laughing people. Children were riding their bikes all over the campground, and no one feared for their safety. 

I am sure it can get a little wild at times. One camper laughed and told me that if I really wanted to sleep at night, it probably wasn’t the best place to be. But if I liked to party and listen to music, and make new friends, he said there was no better place to be.

In the Pecan Grove, music was everywhere. There were several makeshift stages scattered through the area. Some performers were very talented, others not as polished. It didn’t matter to the audience. Everyone danced and had a great time, cheering and applauding at the end of each song. 

I watched a group of young girls dancing merrily to a lively song with sheer joy on their faces. Suddenly a cloudburst hit, and heavy rain began to pour down. The girls didn’t seem to notice. They just kept on dancing, and the rest of the audience didn’t seem to notice either. No one left the area and no one ran for shelter. They were too busy enjoying the music to be bothered by a rainstorm. 

As I walked around the campground, there was music everywhere I went. Most people had no intention of performing on stage. They were just a bunch of friends having fun with their instruments. There were also groups made up of complete strangers. Drawn by the music, campers from other campsites would just walk up and join in. They were always welcomed. 

Many of the campers in the Pecan Grove area have been making the trip to the festival for many years. Those I visited with told me that the music was only part of the fun. For them, the main attraction was the annual reunions with other campers, and the opportunity to make new friends. 

As I explored the area, talking to people, and feeling the special connection they had, I couldn’t help but feel a little envious of the special connection some campers had. Pecan Grove can be a wild and crazy place and some of the acts do need more work. But maybe that is the biggest part of the grove’s charm.  Ordinary people of all different skill levels, enjoying the music, cooking up great food, and spending time together.  

I may be more of an old-time rock and roller than a bluegrass fan. But next year you may just find my camper parked somewhere in the Pecan Grove. Maybe I can even talk my son into going on stage with his guitar. 


CourierTraveler reporter John Shelman can be contacted at (620) 442-4200 or

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