More than 650 Musicians Set for Iowa's Old Time Music Festival, 8/27-9/2


Sometimes it seems like we hear the creaking of Conestoga wagons as they slowly travel the prairie lands of Iowa, looking for a place to settle. Le Mars is a good stopping point."

Bob Everhart, Iowa Public Television host, and recording artist for the Smithsonian Institution, is keen about pioneers and the prairie, especially their music.

"We don't hear the creaking of wagons much anymore," he added, "but we sure hear the creak of huge RV campers as they twist around to park in the large campground we have in LeMars. The Plymouth County Fairgrounds, where we have our annual old-time music festival has lots and lots of electrical hook-ups, just right for anyone planning to spend some time with us, August 27-September 2nd. We might not hear the creaks, but we sure hear the music those early pioneers brought with them in their Conestoga wagons. Actually there's only one gathering place in the Great Plains big enough to host the largest, and oldest, gathering of like-minded folks celebrating America's musical heritage."

Bob Everhart has been the President of the National Traditional Country Music Association since 1975. "We've been saving and savoring the music of our pioneers, here in Iowa, for 37 years now. In that time we've managed to create a festival of traditional music that attracts no less than 650 music makers. We've become the largest and the oldest one that maintains the sweetness of America's early rural music in mid-America. It takes ten sound stages to accommodate that many musicians, and those stages run from 9am to midnight every day for seven days. The gamut of musical genres done in an acoustic style run all the way from early mountain music, to the latest bluegrass. In between you're sure to find hillbilly music, country and western music, rural music, even old-time polka and back porch music. We have six dances in our old-time dance hall just to accommodate the many styles the pioneers enjoyed. As a matter of fact we are kicking off this year's event with a Monday night dance featuring as many as 35 Norwegian accordionists. We're doing this to honor their favorite daughter Lynn Anderson, who is Norwegian. She will be with us on Saturday, Sept. 1, so we expect a lot of her fans throughout the week."

Sheila Everhart, Bob's wife who helps direct the festival has strong feelings about the gathering. "This event is sort of the voice of the prairie lands when it comes to music and song. When the pioneers originally came here, their only musical entertainment was what they could carry in the back of a covered wagon. They were lucky if they had an old-time fiddler with them, and we still welcome, with open arms, anyone who plays the fiddle today. We even have a lot of what they used to call the poor-man's fiddle, the French harp. Introduced to America in 1862, today it's called the harmonica. We have a lot of harmonica players at our festival, we even have a "Harmonica Hoot" a get-together of harmonica players, all in the same key playing the same song.....beautifully. What a refreshing change this is from what we are offered in music today on radio and television as country music."

"Sometimes, if the settlers were lucky," Bob is quick to add, "they might have their own foot-pedal pump organ, and of course the early churches brought an old organ, or piano, to Iowa just as soon as they could get one. We even have one stage at our festival devoted to old-time gospel music....for seven days, imagine that. Singing and dancing on the front porch was also very common to the early farmers, and we present this at our festival too, except the front porch is attached to A VERY OLD log cabin. What a perfect way to not only keep those traditions alive, but make it a high-light for anyone wishing to sit back in the comfort of their own lawn chair and witness this nearly impossible resurrection, but see and hear it just as it was. We consider this practice precious to rural America."

The Everharts are very exacting in how they present America's rural music. "We do not allow any kind of liquor or illicit drug at our event," Sheila is quick to add. "We have a Tipi Village that features the costumes, the food, the life style, and most importantly the music from that time frame, but we do not have liquor, old or new. We started this event 37 years ago as a family attraction, and we intend to keep it that way."

"Some criticize us because we insist on keeping the old traditions alive," Bob said, "but we never established a 'heritage' event just to simply make it into what's popular now, or a passing fad or fancy. We want to be able to proudly say that our original purpose was, and is, to make it possible for young people to know what this music was really like years ago in Iowa. For us, it's the 'real deal' and we have tons of kids present, especially youngsters who want to learn how to play acoustic music. We have learning workshops all seven days all day every day."

"That's why," Sheila added, "that celebrities like Patti Page come out of retirement to support what we are doing. This is not a beer-blast, it's a blast from the past....musically. This year, not only is Lynn Anderson supporting what we do, she joins Tom T Hall, Michael Martin Murphey, and Ed Bruce by being inducted into America's Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame. The Rural Roots Music Commission also make their "CD of the Year" awards, and though we don't know who all will be receiving recognition at this time, they will be well known by festival time."

This entire event is a fund-raiser for the Pioneer Music Museum, where the Hall of Fame is located in Anita, Iowa. The Everharts invite performers and audience members from around the world. And indeed, they come.

There are lots of RV camping spaces with electric hook-ups available on the festival grounds. There are two nearby airports (Sioux City, Ia and Sioux Falls, SD), as well as ample level parking space for 3,000 cars on the grounds.

There is bench seating at all ten stages, but the promoters recommend bringing lawn chairs for comfort. The delicious rural food is everything from broasted chicken to char-broiled Iowa beef.

The festival has a website at and more information can be obtained by calling 712-762-4363, or e-mailing the promoters at