Nestled in the hills and valleys of Vernon County, Wisconsin is a beautiful maple syrup farm. Every year, for three days, this maple syrup farm becomes the setting for a bluegrass music festival, the one and only, Larryfest. During my time at Larryfest, I heard Larry Liebl (a Larry but not THE Larry) say multiple times that it is “the happiest place on Earth for three days of the year” and I could not agree more! Larryfest was started by Larry Sebranek and his family 26 years ago. They had traveled out to Colorado to a bluegrass festival and decided it was something they felt they too could do. It started as a word of mouth, friends and family get together and now has expanded to be much bigger but just as intimate. Larryfest now sells only 900 tickets, but at one point had as many as 1500 patrons.
When attending Larryfest, you have the option to camp and I would highly recommend doing so, if you are able. Many people show up on Wednesday to set up their camping spots and the sense of community is felt right away. The entire weekend you see people embracing who maybe only see each other once a year when they are at Larryfest.
When you arrive on the grounds, you find a place to park and then taken into the grounds by UTV or bus. Everyone who volunteers their time to help drive is friendly, sharing their Larryfest stories and some information to help you enjoy your weekend. There are two stages, The Little Valley Stage and The Main Stage. Both stages have an impressive line up, all three days.
Musicians used to play on the Little Valley Stage under the sun for a smaller, more intimate crowd than the Main Stage. Now there is a bigger stage with an area in the back for the musicians. The stage improvements haven’t altered the atmosphere between musicians and audience, which is something everyone should experience. The first show, down on The Little Valley stage every day, is called Musical Chairs. It is two or more artists, who don’t normally play together, doing a singers in the round style on stage and really feeding off of each-other. This is a fun experience for those watching. They continue the rest of the day with other great, up-and-coming musicians for the patrons to enjoy.
They nestled the Main Stage all the way in the back of the grounds next to the forest. They set it up that the bands play out to a hillside that creates a natural amphitheater. This stage of course, a bit bigger. The musicians on this stage tend to be a little more well known. Some return year after year and some only come for one year. Originally, one of the Sebranek brothers would find talent by going to other festivals. With today’s technology, they can find many through online platforms. To one side of the stage, there are a bunch of trees and at night they are lit up with tons of Christmas lights. It is quite the sight and helps to set the scene for a night full of wonderful music. While enjoying the show, you will see patrons dancing and hula hooping in front of the stage. It is a magnificent scene to take in. To relax and enjoy the show, you may set up lawn chairs, sit on the ground or bring a hammock-just don’t hang it in a lighted tree. Behind The Main Stage is another area for the musicians that are performing on this stage to get tuned up and ready to go. Included in this space is a place for the musicians to relax and connect with one another. I took the opportunity to meet with some musicians and they had nothing but good things to say about performing at Larryfest. I learned how bluegrass really brings them all together and they always seem to bond and feel like family. Many also commented on how well they get treated when coming to Larryfest, from the food and refreshments to the accommodations they have in the area. Despite a musician falling ill and hospitalized before getting to the show, Larry’s concern for their well-being and reassurance about the show reflects the festival’s sense of community. Lastly and most importantly, they enjoy how close and intimate the setting is, it really helps the crowd and musicians feed off each other’s energy.
There are food and drink vendors on the grounds starting Thursday afternoon. However, you can bring in your own food and drinks, which are unique to this festival venue compared to others. I met a group of people who even bring in a big smoker and smoke meat to eat all weekend. There were various vendors at the event, including Queen’s Apples, Let’s Shine Coffee, Skeeter’s Cafe, Larryfest Concessions, and a great burrito place. On Saturday morning there is a breakfast put on by Organic Valley. Also on Saturday is free sweet corn and a bloody mary stand. A personal favorite spot to stop was between the Little Valley Stage and the Main Stage to see Joe and Sprout. Joe owns Pearl Street Brewery and enjoys Larryfest so he took some beer one year with him from his brewery. He now takes kegs and people give him donations that he gives back to the fest. Larryfest is completely run by volunteers and not a single person is paid, this dedication shows that it really is a labor of love. There are also various raffles of instruments, a handmade quilt and a stand with crafts made by some kiddos that attend Larryfest and these proceeds go back towards future Larryfest.
To sum up Larryfest, I would say it really brought happiness to my heart being there. I went on my own, a 24-year-old girl, not sure what to expect. I left with a smile on my face, love in my heart, hopefully a new yearly tradition, and a lot of new friends! If you want a weekend away from the busy, stressful life, we all live every day. This is your place to relax and reset. I hope you all enjoy Larryfest as much as I did and snag your tickets for the 2024 festival. Rain or shine, it will be a great time!
By: Andraya Errthum
Photos Sourced From www.kvama.org. https://www.larryfest.org/