Peace, Love, and Music: Shoe Fest 2017

Peace, Love, and Music: Shoe Fest 2017

Well, it’s that time of year again, friends. We’re less than a month away from Shoe Fest. After the heat of the summer, we all need an escape and some time to recharge. If you’ve never been, let me tell you why Shoe Fest is the best place to do so, and why once you’ve been, you’ll never want to leave.

I’ve covered Shoe Fest since 2012, and from the moment you see the entrance into Camp Shaw, your heart starts pounding. The trees over the entrance welcome you to the peaceful campground, and once you’re parked, it’s time to set up camp and leave your worries behind. It’s one of the few places where I’ve seen the old Grateful Dead lyric in action: “Strangers stopping strangers, just to shake their hand.” Friends and strangers alike smile, exchange greetings, and put on their dancing shoes.

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As you schlep your gear towards the camping area, the delicious aroma of the food vendors wafts your way: enormous wraps with sun-dried tomato as the tortilla, delicious brick oven pizza, and so much more all mingle together and go perfectly with the excellent craft beers (ranging from sweet potato ale to intense IPAs and peppery stouts, Bent River Brewing Co. never fails to disappoint).

So now you’ve claimed a campsite; perhaps you’re towards the back, where at nightfall the soft lights in the trees perfectly illuminate your little slice of the woods behind the Pavilion stage. Or maybe you’re set up in the big field with a perfect view of the main Bent River Stage. In either case, get ready for some serious relaxation, laughs, and of course, killer music to set you right.

With a lineup this year featuring festival hosts Old Shoe (2 nights), the Jeff Austin Band, bluegrass stalwarts Henhouse Prowlers, Tom Hamilton’s American Babies, folk troubadour extraordinaire Chicago Farmer, The Schwag, the eclectic Jaik Willis, Chicago space-funk-jazz outfit EGi, Edward David Anderson, and for the first time, the high-flying “Cajun slamgrass” of Leftover Salmon, and more, 2017 promises to go down in Shoe Fest history as one for the books. Oh, and there’s still another round of artist additions on the way.

So what sets Shoe Fest apart from other similar events? Well, take your pick. You could say the serene environment of Camp Shaw and the winding, refreshing Rock Creek put the mind right at ease unlike any other fest (in addition to the spotlessness of the venue – you never see trash on the ground at Shoe Fest). You could also say it’s the focused nature of the music; with a focus on roots rock, folk, funk, jazz fusion, jam bands, reggae, and bluegrass, it’s a wonderland for those locked into the soulful nature of these kinds of music. It could also be the many and varied local artisans with their unique wares: awesome hats, original artwork (paintings, drawings, posters), wooden sculptures, pins, jewelry, and so much more. However, in this author’s opinion, what makes Shoe Fest so special is far and away the people, and specifically the bond clearly shared between audience and musician.

Shoe Fest is the one festival I’ve been to where everybody is on the same page. That’s not to say there’s anything wrong with events featuring a wide variety of music; those have their own advantages and I will continue to attend those as well. What it is about Shoe Fest is the magical disconnect from the real world and escape into the connection between artist and audience. Musicians can be spotted all weekend meandering the trails, they can be overheard practicing, jamming together, and just having a good time. Fans and artists connect that way and share the experience, leaving everyone feeling the glow that only Shoe Fest can provide.

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Look, maybe I’m biased. I’ve been covering Shoe Fest since 2012. But if there’s a better feeling than walking across that river at night, seeing the lights under the bridge shine on the rock art that people routinely put up in the creek, I sure don’t know what it is. And when you’re lounging in a lawn chair watching the band on stage tear it up, and you see bubbles drifting lazily through the sunshine, you just can’t help but smile. Shoe Fest is its own little microcosm of happiness, and come Monday morning, without fail I am loathe to return to the real world.

If you’ve never been to Shoe Fest, this year is as good as any to make your first trip to Camp Shaw. I promise you won’t regret it.

For more info, including the full lineup, tickets, volunteering, and more, check out the website: and the Facebook page:

I do not own the photos in this article. Credit to amasonphotos and the Shoe Fest website/Facebook page/whoever came up with the logo 


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