The Fair Ground Festival: Breaking New Grounds

Begun as the idea to bring a large-scale single-day music festival to rural Barry County, the Fair Ground Festival soon grew into a community effort to support women artists by showcasing a lineup of all female-led performers.

Co-headlined by Portland indie-folk trio Joseph and Traverse City indie favorites The Accidentals, the first-ever Fair Ground Festival will also feature The Crane Wives from Grand Rapids, three-time Grammy nominee Ruthie Foster, West Michigan native turned Nashville musician Patty PerShayla & the Mayhaps, and artist/activist Kyshona.

“I wish I could say it was my idea, but Fair Ground Festival’s lineup was pretty organic,” Amber Buist, manager for The Accidentals, and co-organizer of Fair Ground told Revue.

Buist had gotten contacted by Megan Lavell, executive director of the Thornapple Arts Council of Barry County, about working together on a lineup for the brand new event, as The Accidentals had previously played as part of the Arts Council’s ongoing summer music series, Hastings Live, nearly every year since they’ve been a band. 

“I started asking for the top of the list of bands The Accidentals wanted to collaborate with - most of them were female fronted, mostly bands they have worked with in the past, bands that they truly love,” Buist said. “They had just played a show at SXSW at Blue Rock Studio with Ruthie Foster, and just raved about her. They were co-writing in Nashville with Kyshona. The Crane Wives introduced them to mid- Michigan when they were teens. Patty PerShayla has been touring with them for the last two years. These bands all on the same stage, same day is somewhat of a miracle.”

“Amber was the one who had suggested the lineup, and she was the one who got us excited for the idea of a female fronted music festival,” Lavell added. “We’re a female led organization, and the response has been phenomenal. The committee and my board have been shocked in a good way at the response of the people that we have coming forward who are interested in the festival, and who are interested in helping plan and execute that.”

An incredibly small organization with only Lavell as its sole full-time employee, the Thornapple Arts Council has already seen a large outpouring of volunteers eager to help with the festival in any way they can.

“I could not be more excited at the fact that it’s being done by women,” Lavell said. “We have some men on the committee, and there are some male performers in the groups that are female led, but it just feels so good. We’re not making a feminist statement. We’re just making a statement that this can be done, and be super successful with females leading almost every aspect of it, and with females on the stage. The thing that kills me in the best possible way is that these artists are so amazing. And the lineup is so hot. These are badass women. They’re not just gals standing at a microphone. These are women who are owning that stage, and setting that high energy for their performances.”

Set to take place at the Barry County Expo Center, Lavell said the festival site doesn’t have a physical capacity per se, but that the organization has prepared to handle a crowd as large as 3,000 for the single-day Saturday event taking place Aug. 27.

“The Arts Council is taking a leap of faith underwriting a huge festival like this,” Buist said. “They went all in to create an unparalleled experience that people will be talking about for a while. They’re passionate about their community and they support the arts with their whole heart. They want you to come. They want you to experience their town and leave feeling like family.”

Intending to help stimulate the local economy and draw attention to the natural wooded beauty of Barry County, in addition to raising up female artists, the Fair Ground Festival will feature several local vendors and sponsors while also serving as a welcoming to visitors from outside the community. 

“We think it’s a well-kept secret in a lot of ways because there are no freeways in the county,” Lavell said. “You have to try to be here. You don’t just accidentally wander into Barry County most of the time, but people should expect a lot of natural beauty and small town charm.”

The Fair Ground Festival

Featuring Joseph, The Accidentals, The Crane Wives, Ruthie Foster, Patty PerShayla & the Mayhaps, Kyshona

Barry County Expo Center, 1350 M-37, Hastings

Aug. 27, 2 p.m. – 10 p.m.

$50 GA Adult, $25 GA Kids 4-10, $125 VIP, $250 Ultimate VIP, $5 parking