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Beards Not Optional 

Wildwood Music Festival rocks the rural valley

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Looking at the impressive lineup for the Wildwood Music Festival and Campout July 17-19, you might think, those who don't have facial hair, need not apply. That, and: That's some mean roots, folk, and blues.

Festival organizer Katie Kendall says that this year will be their biggest yet, and it has grown every year since their humble start five summers ago.

"We had this idea to have an outdoor event, myself and Kim Hamblin, who owns the property," recalls Kendall. "That first summer Charlie Parr said he would play for us as long as it wasn't a public event. We put a couple of pallets together with some plywood to make a stage and by word-of-mouth invited 100 people or so. We put a jar out for donations and people gave exactly what was needed. That put the wind in our sails. The following year, the first year we had the official festival, nearly 400 people came, and we thought, this could be a thing."

If "a thing" means growing to 1,000 people last year and already surpassing that number in ticket sales this year, then yes, a thing it is. Though Kendall says they want to keep their loyal following and have new folks enjoy it, without overtaxing the land. (And porta-potties.) In other words, get your tickets quick, though camping space is plentiful. With more than 40 acres to camp on, this festival won't feel too crowded when it comes time to bed down for the night.

"Usually when you go to these festivals, you get your 10-by-10 spot, but here you can find your own space and not be too close to people," says Kendall.

But back to the bearded musicians: "Our main thing is always keeping a nice variety," says Kendall. "There is a pretty wide range in there, with quite a few people coming back from other years. Jeff Norton—I cannot get enough of. We are going to have a few bands from the region. The Banditos are getting a lot of national attention right now, and they just signed with Bloodshot Records right after we booked them. They have southern rock sounds with a soulful, female singer with that Janis Joplin passion in her delivery. Jacob Miller and the Bridge City Crooners from Portland, they just look like they are from the '20s; they are super entertaining. [Reverend] Deadeye from Denver is theatrical and growly. I'm also excited about our headliners on Friday," she says, finally acknowledging, "run on sentence!" (Check out wildwoodmusicfest.com for the full lineup and all the beards in all their glory.) Or, for a change in facial-hair pace, the group out of Bellingham, Washington, Wild Rabbit, is actually clean-shaven. "This is a band I have found that has a different sound in that bluegrassy vein," says Kendall.

But back to the roots: Kendall was born and raised in Willamina (population 2,025), five miles down the road a piece from Sheridan (population 6,011), where the festival is being held. She and her sister owned and operated a restaurant in McMinnville for more than a decade, and decided to sell their successful café and head back to make it in their hometown. They now own and run the Wildwood Hotel, which houses weary travelers and hosts live music every other weekend. Though that type of a move has been uncommon in recent decades, Kendall says it is coming back in style.

"When you are 20-something," she says, "you want to get out of your area. It is a harder row to hoe, but it is getting back to be a thing again culturally, to try and make it where you came from. People only have so much energy to put into things, so it is important that some go back to make our own legacy."

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