By Shereen Siewert

After months of canceled festivals and performances, musicians across the country are struggling to share their music – and earn a living – as the coronavirus pandemic wears on. But a Wausau group is taking a creative approach to bringing music back to the area while giving artists a chance to perform.

Six bands, all familiar names throughout the region, will perform Sept. 18-19 at a unique drive-in concert on the outskirts of Wausau. Wild Woods Festival features music by Trampled by Turtles, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Charlie Parr, Old Salt Union, Feed the Dog, and Billy Bronsted & the Loot.

“The artists and we agree that some of the best medicine for this country right now is to be together and enjoy some live music in a safe manner,” said Alena Han, part of the team organizing and promoting the event. “We’re honored to bring live music back into people’s lives and realize that it will always have the ability to unite us.”

The festival at The Folk Farm, 223315 Clover Road, kicks off Friday night with doors opening at 4 and music starting at 4:30 p.m. Feed the Dog opens the set, followed by Old Salt Union and ending with Trampled by Turtles.

On Saturday, doors open once again at 4 p.m. with Billy Bronsted & The Loot taking the stage at 4:30 p.m. Charlie Parr follows at 7 with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades from 9 p.m. to 10:30 p.m.

The premise is this: Event-goers stay in their assigned, clearly-marked parking spaces, which include room for chairs and social distancing from other attendees. Each car will be given a specific spot. One ticket is good for four people with an option to purchase additional tickets.

Carry-ins are not allowed. But beer and seltzer bucket specials are available to add on when purchasing a ticket. Screen printed posters and bandanas are also available online and onsite. Food options will be provided by Chef C’s Munchie Mobile , Curds Of Wisconsin and the Rib Mountain Lions Club. Drinks will also be available on site, including Red Eye Brewing Company Wausau, all alcohol sales will be going to the Rib Mountain Lions Club. Delivery options are available for attendees who do not wish to leave their designated area.

“Music is a big part of my families life – and a lot of people’s lives – and we really believed it was a good time to bring live music back to Central Wisconsin,” said Paul Szmanda, who is hosting the event. “Our farm provides a lot of space to provide a safe environment and this event will be a wonderful intro into the future of the Folk farm.”

Event organizers say they are taking COVID-19 guidelines very seriously. All staff will answer questionnaires daily with temperature checks. Masks and gloves will be worn when necessary. For band safety, staff will sanitize the stage in between all sets.

Each show will be performed live, rather than virtually, in person and onstage in front of The Folk Farm. Two arrays of flown speakers will ensure everyone has the same experience. The field is split into four sections with VIP being the closest spot, followed by a front, mid and back lot. Larger vehicles such as vans, lifted vehicles and buses will be parked on the edges and in the back.

All attendees will be required to wear a mask when wandering to the bathroom or to get food or drinks.

Event organizers had this to say about their artist lineup:

  • Progressive bluegrass band Trampled by Turtles are from Duluth, Minnesota, where frontman Dave Simonett initially formed the group as a side project in 2003.
  • Hailing from the river town of Stevens Point, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades plays something like progressive high-energy old-time folk music. With strong roots in old-time and bluegrass, the band has formed it’s own unique style born from the diverse musical backgrounds and interests of the five friends who make up the band. All born and raised in the great state of Wisconsin, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades began playing music and their earliest shows in the spring of 2009.
  • Old Salt Union is a string band founded by a horticulturist, cultivated by classically trained musicians, and fueled by a vocalist/bass player who is also a hip-hop producer with a fondness for the Four Freshmen. It is this collision of styles and musical vocabularies that informs their fresh approach to bluegrass and gives them an electric live performance vibe that seems to pull more from Vaudeville than the front porch.
  • Charlie Parr is an incorruptible outsider who writes novelistic, multi-layered stories that shine a kaleidoscopic light on defiant, unseen characters thriving in the shadows all around us. Parr has a new record with only his name on it, and it isn’t shiny and perfect and commercial and catchy. It’s him. It’s pure Charlie Parr and that’s enough. He hasn’t moved to LA or Nashville; he’s stayed in the cold grey north of Minnesota, because that’s his home.
  • Billy Bronsted and the Loot are a predominately hard-playing, big-sounded duo from Wisconsin’s Northwoods. Billy and his percussionist, John Kneipp were both born and raised in Tomahawk, Wi, where their love for music was definitely thought of as unique. The duo’s rythmic sound of the drum mixed with Bronsted’s plucking puts the listener in a feel-good vibe.
  • Feed the Dog is an eclectic and action-packed, high-energy, jam-rock-grass band. The Appleton based group features masterfully crafted fiddle, Kottke like finger pickin’ acoustic six and twelve string guitar, funky bass lines, and percussive soul.

If you go, be sure to bring a photo ID, a mask, blankets or chairs and a friend or two to enjoy the music with.

Tickets are available online here. For any additional information, visit the Wild Woods Festival Facebook page.