Last updated on April 24th, 2023 at 09:41 pm
In just over two short months, 45 bands will descend into Eau Claire, Wisconsin, to once again transform the Pines Music Park into Blue Ox Music Festival. The intimate Bluegrass and Americana festival is spread out over three days, gracing three different stages.
As with any festival, the headliners capture the largest interest. While The Infamous Stringdusters, Mike Gordon, and The Avett Brothers carry a lot of weight for eyeballs, the real strength of any festival is the depth of talent.
At Blue Ox, that depth comes from its smallest stage. The Backwoods Stage celebrates regional artists and gives incredible opportunities for newer bands to experience a larger festival. Nestled in the campgrounds, it carries mythical status as the home of many former late-night jam sessions and surprise guest appearances.
Last year saw a second dose of Daniel Donato, a live album recording, “Live At Blue Ox” by The Last Revel, and everyone’s common experience of getting lost trying to find the oasis in the pines.
This year is no exception, providing superb chances to discover new music and interesting artists. Winners of the festival’s Virtual Band Competition, The Spine Stealers, are a two-gal duo that has developed continuously since forming during the 2020 pandemic. Their newest release, “Waffle House,” has a hypnotic silent gap that should be even more tender outside on that stage.
Rainbow Girls will be pulling double duty by performing with Kyle Tuttle on the main stage before gracing the Backwoods Stage. Described as “a gang of sweet angels punching you in the heart,” the trio has established themselves with 4 albums. Their three-part harmonies mixed with gentle, lilting guitars will be the perfect heart punch to witness. The title of their newest release, Rolling Dumpster Fire, sums up the past couple of years expertly.
Performing late is another intriguing group, The People Brothers Band. The rhythm and soul 8-piece will fill the stage with sax, percussion, keys, drums, guitars, and Teresa Marie’s powerhouse voice. The group swims between influences from Whitney Houston to Phish, Gregg Allman, and the Grateful Dead, all while finding outlets in their collection of original music.
This year’s must-witness experience is WuGrass featuring Chris Castino (The Big Wu) and Chicken Wire Empire. This unique collaboration netted an album release in 2022 that pulled from music Castino originally wrote for a rock band. They re-imagined the tunes in a bluegrass style, pulling in lots of guests. This set has the highest potential for special guest appearances. (Pssttt…look for a possible surprise from Sam Bush for “Red Sky.”)
Jerrika Mighelle is another fascinating voice to catch. Their newest single, “My Greatness,” speaks of growing up in a small city, finding yourself, and the pride in queer love. An advocate for gender-diverse folks, women, and BIPOC artists, Jerrika hosts a monthly open mic at the Pablo Center and the popular Converge Radio Show “Tunes from the Womb.”
Sprig of That exemplifies the depth at Blue Ox with a trio of tabla, fiddle, and guitar. Reminiscent of progressive string artists like the Kronos Quartet, they revel in their live communication during performances. Their intricate rhythms and extensive harmonic soundscapes will be one of the more unique experiences at the Backwoods Stage.
The festival is 90% sold out, so get your tickets now to secure your place at the Backwoods Stage.