If you've never heard of Dwight, KS you aren't alone. Despite it being only 30 minutes from Manhattan, I wasn't aware of its existence until I saw photos from the Headlight Rivals show there last year. Even then, I didn't know where it was or anything about it, except that they had a pontoon boat stage. I also didn't realize that the Headlight Rivals show was a possible precursor to a reoccurring annual festival. Well on September 22nd the second annual Rock On Prairie Fest occurred, and it was a roaring raging success.
Following the realization that Aggiefest was not going to happen this year, I was promptly contacted by Eric Kleiner. The conversation was straightforward and direct; "The family just wants to throw a big party; they are paying the bands, they are making a ton food, it is BYOB, they are only charging $5 per person and don't care if they make the money back; I think we should support this". I was convinced, and we made plans to promote the festival and to organize a carpool for the regular Church-goers and folks in our networks.
Fast forward to the day of, I showed up at 4:00pm on the dot and was greeted at the edge of the property by a smiling family member who asked for my ID and cover charge and then sent me to an open spot to park. There was already a decent sized crowd of mostly locals, and some MHK regulars. Folks were playing cornhole and beer pong, kids were running around, and the bands were finishing setting up and running power to the stage.
While the start to the day was fairly calm, I could already see the rumblings of a rager in the making. One early warning sign was Harvey, who was already several beers in by the time the music started. His catch phrase seemed to be "party with the best, f*ck the rest" and although he appeared to be well into his 60's or more, it is hard to tell what effect being "the best" may have had on his aging process. One thing Harvey couldn't stand was for the band to stop playing. "Well aren't you gonna play!?" was a common phrase any time there was a changeover or if the guitarist took too long to tune.
Don't worry...it's his microphone!
David Spiker and The Blackbird Fields each played fantastic sets and finished up before the sun went down. The crowd was a bit muted by the sun, but as a beautiful sunset signaled the end of the mild heat, people began to come alive. Plastique opened their set with an epic build up and by the time their set was over the crowd was really beginning to grow, just in time for Headlight Rivals. The bonfire was lit, and just like that, all hell broke loose...
Headlight Rivals rock out as the bonfire is lit
The Headlight fans are experienced with moshing to the extent that the melee in front of the stage was near-choreographed dance fighting. I say "near" because people were still being thrown to the ground and jumped on, but there is a certain camaraderie among people who are so out of control together, that for everyone who hit the dirt, there were two more willing to pick them up, check if they were OK, and then toss them back into the mayhem.
This was also the point in the night where all the costumes started coming out, because you can't have a festival without people jumping the shark. I use that phrase deliberately because one of the costumes was of a shark. Other notable festival characters include the man who was almost literally radiating happiness (smiley face bandanna and broken yellow glow sticks poured all over a white t-shirt) and Gorilla v. Banana (one guy dressed as a gorilla chased another guy dressed as a banana and tackled him to the ground multiple times)....you can't make this stuff up.
The Velveteers with a rowdy crowd
After Headlight Rivals the party continued to rage as Hatchet Game and The Velveteers played solid sets. Demi, the lead singer for The Velveteers tried to call Harvey up to the stage (he had probably been asking her if she was going to sing for him all night), but to everyone's surprise, Harvey had snuck off to catch a nap somewhere! Finally someone found him towards the end of the set. He came up to me and complained loudly that not a single band had played a lick of country music. I told him he ought to wait for the final band, StrawBilly.
Speaking of, StrawBilly didn't disappoint, they played a full set of rockabilly, alt-country, etc. Several of the Dwight locals joined the crowd right up next to the stage, and when the everyone changed for "one more song" StrawBilly obliged, about 5 or 6 times over! After that, I was ready to lay down by the smoldering remains of the bonfire and fall asleep under the stars. Others had different plans as a second bonfire was set and a couch was hooked up to the back of a giant military truck and drug all over the place.
In the end, the bands were stellar, the food was phenomenal (I had three heaping plates over the course of 10 hours for only a $5 suggested donation), and the crowd was fired up. Although this festival wasn't technically in MHK, we would still love to see it supported by the MHK MUSIC SCENE due to it's close proximity and because of the support that Bo Fetters and his family are showing to the bands (including 4 from MHK) and the music community, without expectation of profit. My guess is that the investment made this year will allow for a bigger and more profitable festival for everyone involved next time around.
What do you think? Should Rock On Prairie Fest happen again in 2018? Let us know in the comments!
The first of three helpings....