Learning How To ‘Festival’: the 10-year growth of Flatwater Music Festival | Preview Story

Flatwater Music Festival sits on the cusp of its 10th anniversary, a decade of outdoor appreciation and folk music sewn into the Prairie Loft Center acreage which sits roughly three miles west of downtown Hastings. But when it first emerged in 2007, it did so off-the-cuff, with the very simple goal of gathering local and touring musicians simply to jam.

Prairie Loft executive director Amy Sandeen says the first year had an experimental feel: loose musical sessions, an erected beer garden fence, all in the midst of major Prairie Loft Renovations.

“Those first years were kinda dusty and dirty, really,” Sandeen says.

After 10 years, the tangible positive energy is present throughout every inch of the festival grounds. Attribute that in large part to its educational music workshops, its predominant folk lineup — this year featuring The Talbott Brothers, The Wildwoods, Bonnie & the Clydes and more — and the open jam session spots throughout the Prairie Loft grounds, a throwback to its origins. It is an event that emphasizes cultural connections, agricultural appreciation and outdoor education — pursuant to Prairie Loft’s Mission.

Jam Circle | photo courtesy of Flatwater Music Festival

“It’s changed from an experiment into a festival,” Sandeen says. “We’ve learned so much about providing the right kind of energy, getting all kinds of people together, making cultural connections for everyone, providing something that everybody can get into.”

Sandeen came on for Flatwater’s second year, bringing from Minnesota years of experience playing in bands at festivals just like this one. A Hastings native, she had lived in the Twin Cities for 18 years before the job drew her home.

She says one of Prairie Loft’s “subversive” missions is to teach Central Nebraskans how to participate in a weekend-long event like this one — or “festival” as she puts it. Over the years, they’ve gotten pretty good at it.

“You go to Red Rocks (Amphitheater) or a dance festival and there’s a hat you put on, whether you’re a musician or an audience member,” Sandeen says. “We’ve found it really successfully at this festival.”

Now, she watches the license plates roll in from all over neighboring states. Attendance has grown from 68 to more than 1300 last year, indicating the success and progress of what has become a tri-cities mainstay.

“It’s morphed into an annual destination for a lot of folks,” Sandeen says.

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This year, Flatwater Music Festival opens with a pre-party Thursday, June 23 from 6 to 9 p.m. Hastings American group Gracie’s Uncles (of which Sandeen is apart) will perform in the barn at 7 p.m., with food and cash bar available at 6 p.m.

Friday night, Andrea von Kampen kicks-off live music on the patio at 6 p.m., followed by The Bottle Tops and The Talbott Brothers on the main stage. Food and art vendors and the beer garden will be open from 6 to 11 p.m.

Saturday, Nebraska Arts and Humanities Council speak Oscar Rios Pohirieth highlights the educational sessions with a talk about Andean Folk Music. The Wildwoods will also lead a musician’s workshop session. That night, the main stage hosts The Wildwoods, The Railsplitters and Bonnie & the Clydes.

The Wildwoods perform at 2015 Flatwater Music Festival | photo by Caitlin Dumas for Hear Nebraska

Maintaining Flatwater’s original communal vibe, the “Shady Stage” features local and regional musicians playing in 30 minute sets. The Classic Country Cloggers are annual fixtures on this stage, this year joined by Jim Sanderson Music, 18-year-old Norton, Kansas, musician Lauren Mordecai, Ogallala’s Dandelion Pickers (which features Lou Krauss Music manager Bob Josjor) and many more.

See the main stage performance schedule below, and find a list of vendors here. Admission to the pre-party is by free-will donation, and Friday and Saturday day-passes are $10. RSVP here.


6 p.m. – Doors, food/beer garden open
7 p.m.Gracie’s Uncles


6 p.m. – doors, concert on the patio with Andrea Von Kampen; food/beer garden open


7:15 p.m.The Bottle Tops

9 p.m.The Talbott Brothers



1 p.m. – doors
1-5 p.m. – Kids’ activities, vendors, music jams, workshops, games, food, music, & more.
5 p.m. – beer garden open

5:30 p.m.The Wildwoods

7:15 p.m.The Railsplitters

9:30 p.m.Bonnie & The Clydes