A bluegrass fest named Larry
In soccer, you had Pele; in boxing, Ali. In contemporary music, you have had Cher, Madonna, Yanni and others.
They're performers who become identifiable by only one of their names. In bluegrass music, at least in western Wisconsin, you have Larry as in the annual Larryfest.
The festival, on a 60-acre parcel of land in the Kickapoo Valley, draws bluegrass performers and hundreds of fans from all over the country. This year, the 8th annual Larryfest is scheduled for Aug. 19-20.
Actually, the man whose name is on the festival -- Larry Sebranek -- is not really a household word or a performer, and never has wanted to be.
"A bunch of us were all together one night, and I went out to my truck to get something," recalled Larry, who co-owns the small farm where the festival is held. "I came back and they all had Larryfest hats on. At first, I wasn't that thrilled to have my name on it, but I guess it kind of grows on you."
Larryfest began about eight or nine years ago when Larry, his brothers, Dan and Doug, and some other bluegrass lovers were sitting around a campfire playing some music and talking about what a great spot the Kickapoo would be for an outdoor music festival.
They decided to start one and called it the Bohemian Glen Music Festival its first year. "It really started as a big party, so we had to come up with a name," said Dan Sebranek, who plays in the Midwest and out West as a full-time singer/musician. "After the first year, we thought we should come up with something a little shorter.
"We were sitting around one night, and thinking of other names that might be more marketable. Somebody came up with Larryfest. Larry wasn't so hot on it. But, it's kind of taken off."
The Sebranek family is the catalyst for the festival. The site is owned by Doug and Larry, and is located near where the family farm once sat. The family always has been musical. In fact, a group called "The in-laws" -- headed by Virgil Sebranek, the father of Doug, Larry and Dan -- traditionally kicks off the festival.
"My dad was in a band for years, and Dan has been playing since he was about 12 or 13," Larry said. "I took some lessons, but decided I couldn't play."
So, instead of actual music, Larry contributes his name to the fest, which has grown each year. Doug does a lot of the grunt, behind-the-scenes work and arranges for many of the performers.
"I figured I listened to enough bluegrass over my life that I knew who the heavy hitters in the States were," Doug said. "I kind of like doing that part of it."
This year, 19 bands will play over the two days. Bluegrass is the featured music, but old-time, folk and acoustic music also will be played.
Dan Sebranek's "String Ties" -- a well-known group in the Mississippi River area -- will play. The Bluegrass Champions with Clay Hess, who played guitar with Ricky Skaggs, is another featured group.
Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan will make the trip from Austin, Texas. That group specializes in swing jazz and western music.
The Lonesome River Band combined traditional bluegrass with a rock 'n' roll edge. The group's album "Carrying The Tradition" was picked the International Bluegrass Music Association Album of the Year in 1991. The band has appeared with John Fogerty and other well-known artists in and out of the bluegrass tradition.
Andy Glandt and "Fiddle" George Kralik come from Germany and the Czech Republic originally and still tour Europe and the U.S. Kralik has been picked the "best fiddler in the Czech Republic."
"I ran into Andy Glandt at a festival in Louisville a few years ago, and when I heard he was putting together a U.S. thing I contacted him," Doug Sebranek said.
In addition to the bands, the Creekside singer-songwriter stage will host a bluegrass workshop, clogging demonstrations and presentation of some original music.
The Kickapoo Valley Acoustic Music Association puts on Larryfest. It's a non-profit organization that provides music scholarships in area schools and provides assistance to community agencies and organizations in rural Wisconsin.
KVAMA has combined with Dave's Guitar, Green Man Music, Leithold's Music and SSE Music to sponsor a songwriter contest to promote original music.
"It's a good thing how we have been able to do some things for the community with the money we raise," Doug Sebranek said. "More than anything, I just like bringing that kind of music up here."
Larryfest is held on a maple syrup farm. Camping is available next to spring fed streams.
Every attempt is made to preserve the environment of the site. Ticket sales are advertised as limited to 1,000, although Larry said around 1,200 to 1,300 usually attend the event. No vehicular traffic is allowed directly to the site, but shuttle busses do run regularly.
The festival runs from 3 p.m. until midnight on Friday, Aug. 19, and noon to midnight on Saturday, Aug. 20. For information on transportation, location, tickets and other details, go to kvama.org.
Ellen said: I remember hearing Dan's band Runaway quite frequently in the late 80's, great musician. Glad to be back in the area and look forward to LarryFest!!
MARY SEBRANEK BARBIERI said: MY WIFE MARY, WANTS TO SING A CZECH SONG WITH HER BROTHERS TOM, JIM AND PAT SEBRANEK AT THIS YEARS (2006) LARRYFEST. VAN BARBIERI (MARY'S HUSBAND IN CALIFORNIA)
mary cortesi said: Great article...great fest. Larryfest and the Kickapoo Valley Acoustic Music Association thank you from the bottom of our bluegrass hearts.
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