Roots and bluegrass festival set to again take over downtown River Falls

Posted March 19, 2017

Area music fans are getting ready to stomp their feet at the annual River Falls Roots and Bluegrass Festival.

The indoor music festival will be taking over downtown River Falls April 7-9 with music, dancing and wine tasting filling many of the city’s bars and restaurants. Put on by the the River Falls Chamber of Commerce, the festival was created after the resurgence of the bluegrass genre following the highly successful 2000 Coen Brothers’ movie, “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”

Since its inception seven years ago, the festival has grown in popularity with an estimated 3,000 people attending last year from the St. Croix Valley and the Twin Cities. This year, organizers are expecting 3,500 people.

Judy Berg, the chamber’s tourism sales marketing manager, said people are now coming for more than just the music.

“When people come to River Falls they see us as being a very friendly community and they really enjoy seeing the different businesses that are participating,” Berg said.

Most events during the weekend are free and don’t require a ticket. This leaves people with more money to spend on the local economy. According to numbers put together by the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and the River Falls Chamber of Commerce, the average person staying overnight during last year’s festival spent $180 on accommodations and food. Overall, last year’s festival goers spent $147,192 at area businesses. Berg said the festival gives the city an early start on the tourism season.

“It’s one of the flagship events for River Falls and it’s just a great opportunity to bring people in earlier in the year,” Berg said.

Like every year, the lineup will feature a variety of new acts and styles of bluegrass but many of the festival’s favorites also will be returning. For the third year, Art Stevenson and High Water will be performing during the festival with a Saturday night show at Junior’s Bar and Restaurant. The band’s frontman, Art Stevenson, said he’s excited to return to the festival and returning members of the audience shouldn’t expect the same performance as last year.

“We do something different every time we play, depending on how we feel and what’s happening in the world,” Stevenson said.

Stevenson has played with High Water for the last 24 years and cites legendary bluegrass artists like Doc Watson and Lester Flatt as a few of his influences. He said he enjoys seeing the genre continue to grow.

“I’ve seen a lot of young bands come up playing all kinds of music that seems to either draw on bluegrass or be related to it in some way,” Stevenson said. “There’s a big movement going on here in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest and other parts of the country, too.”

The festival kicks off at 5 p.m. Friday, April 7, with a beer and wine tasting event at Junior’s Bar and Restaurant, 414 S. Main St. The festival wraps up at 11 a.m. Sunday, April 9, with “Attic Treasures Appraisal,” an event based off of the popular TV show “Antiques Roadshow.” A full lineup can be found online at