The Walnut Valley Festival wrapped up its first-ever virtual event last weekend after it went online because of the pandemic.
Now, organizers are optimistically planning for next year’s event in Winfield, even as the future of large-scale events remains in question.
"Like everybody else, we’re sort of hoping that they get a vaccine out in early 2021, we can see that sort of roll out and see a much different situation for live gatherings in the fall," said Walnut Valley Festival executive director Bart Redford.
The organization released a series of free, recorded performances earlier this month after announcing in June it would have to cancel the in-person event.
"It takes about a year and a half to plan something like that, and you only have a year between festivals," he said.
According to the organization, almost 12,000 people have visited the virtual bluegrass festival – about on par with in-person attendance to the annual event. The performances are still online and free to view, though donations are being welcomed through the end of the month.
Redford says the format actually allowed the festival to reach more entertainers and new audiences.
"We welcome anybody. Maybe you’ve got some folks who’ve never to the festival, don’t know what it’s about," he said. "It’s a good chance to find out without having to spend the money on a ticket, and maybe you’ll find somebody you like."
Redford says Walnut Valley has a good shot at being in-person because of its later date.
"We’re kind of fortunate in that we have a September date because we saw a lot of festivals that were hit by this in March, April, May, and are again looking at that early date and wondering whether or not they’ll be able to make it," he said. "I figure we have a better shot than most, but we’ll see how it looks."
Still, there are no guarantees.
"We really look forward every year to seeing a lot of friends. [It feels] a little bit like these people are family that we see just once a year and everybody’s missing that," Redford said. "But we’re hopeful we’ll get to do that next year."