21st Buffalo Commons Storytelling and Music Festival
June 9-10, 2017, McCook, Nebraska
Festival 2017 will celebrate McCook’s 135th birthday and Nebraska’s 150th with storytellers, poets, historians, musicians, a bus tour, stage show, intimate bistro event, youth workshop and activities, college course, and poetry slam. To emphasize history and sense of place, events will include a Chautauqua-style garden party, tour of a historic home and stories in conversation, narrative, poetry, and music at the historic High Plains Museum. The arts and humanities have been central to Southwest Nebraska and McCook’s development as the “Capital of the Buffalo Commons” from the early homesteaders to the cowboys, railroaders, community leaders in the life and challenges of this place on the Republican River Valley of the mixed grass prairie.
The festival strives to provide experience-based learning by combining super venues, outstanding artists, and enthusiastic hosts to invite audiences of all ages and ethnic backgrounds into a celebration of rural community. The artists not only entertain, they model, teach, and inspire. This year’s guest artists, include 2016 Nebraska Book Award Winner poet Chuck Peek of Kearney; nationally acclaimed humorist, author, and storyteller Kim Weitkamp from Virginia; 2015 Grammy Nominee for Best Bluegrass Album and 2016 ABMA Instrumental Group of the Year, Frank Solivan and Dirty Kitchen from Washington D.C.; historian and author Nebraska Wesleyan Professor of History Emeritus Dr. Ron Naugle; local musician via Nashville Ginger ten Benzel, local writer-historian Walt Sehnert, Pastor Clark and Dawna Bates as Senator and Ellie Norris, historian-author Joy Haden, local poet Ginny Odenbach, and former Gazette publisher Gene O. Morris.
The Buffalo Commons Storytelling and Music Festival has evolved into much more than a single event to preserve and celebrate the oral tradition in Southwest Nebraska. It is an ongoing process of learning, practicing, teaching, savoring and perpetuating. In this time of instant gratification, “me first” and electronic communication, it has become ever more important to make meaningful human connections and to understand from where we came.
“Back in Time,” the theme of Buffalo Commons Music and Storytelling Festival 2017, continues to explore life on the short grass prairie of the Republican River Valley. The festival began as a response to two New Jersey scholars who suggested that the United States and indeed the residents of the semi-arid lands west of the 100th Meridian would be better off if they moved to urban areas and ceased to live on their farms and in their rural communities. In the beginning, it was realized that the New Jersey scholars had studied this area and understood the challenges faced better than the majority of citizens living here. Not only that, many of the colleges and universities charged with serving that great expanse of semi-arid prairie from Texas to Canada was not concerned either. At that time the Buffalo Commons Storytelling Festival was created to discuss and celebrate the past, present, and future of the western Great Plains.
Festival 2017 Looks Back in Time and Forward with Anticipation
- Considering the vital role of water in the history and development of the Plains States, the McCook Community College Center for Enterprise sponsors “History’s Mysteries Bus Tour” to learn about the 1935 Republican River Flood and examine its conseqences. Author, Joy Hayden, will discuss the great flood that destroyed the tristate area of Nebraska, Kansas, and Colorado and left disaster in its wake. The tour will include visiting landmarks left behind and the High Plains Museum of McCook.
- McCook Community College also sponsors “Storytelling Savvy.” Poet and storyteller Dr. Chuck Peek, and historian Dr. Ron Naugle will help participants learn to preserve and share their own histories through the oral tradition.
- The McCook City Library sponsors a storytelling event with Master Storyteller Kim Weitkamp to acquaint young people, their parents, teachers, and others with the opportunity that story has to entertain and educate youth about the meaning of life in small towns.
- To inspire the festival’s youngest participants, the MCL will host the “Peanut Butter Storytelling Theatre KidsFest” for preschool and elementary children. Area teachers and Kim Weitkamp will lead activities.
- The Bieroc Café is the setting for the popular Dinner Cabaret, featuring award-winning poet Dr. Chuck Peek who shares his passion for rural values; Kim Weitkamp, who weaves stories from her experience growing up in the heart of Amish Country, and says her imagination was ripened by a life lived outdoors, and Frank Soloman and Dirty Kitchen pays homage to family and heroes through their unique brand of bluegrass music.
- Surrounded by artifacts that preserve the area’s past, the High Plains Museum hosts stories on McCook memories, poetry and music that celebrate history and sense of place.
- Bieroc Café hosts a poetry slam, youth presentations celebrating cultural stories, an open mic, and ghost stories with Kim Weitkamp.
- Senator and Ellie Norris will host an old-fashioned Garden Party at the NSHS Norris House.
- The Historic Fox Theatre will celebrate 21 years of story and song during the 2017 Festival’s Grand Finale.
Guest Artists and Presenters
Humorist, keynote speaker, presenter, consultant, singer, songwriter, producer, entrepreneur, and spoken word artist, Kim Weitkamp, has a lot of titles . . . but one main thing ties them all together. Story. As the redheaded child of exhausted parents, Kim grew up enjoying the role of the middle child. Allowed to roam free in the heart of Amish Country, her imagination was ripened by a life lived outdoors. Now she enjoys the role of being one of the most sought-after storytellers and speakers in the country. In her work as a humorist, storyteller, singer and songwriter, she has taken home a full armload of awards and recognitions. She has worked on and created successful peace projects, including the Peace by Piece Project in collaboration with the Taubman Museum of Fine Arts. As this year’s featured storyteller, Kim will also take on an armload of responsibilities during the festival. She will perform story concerts Friday at the dinner cabaret and Saturday at the Fox Theatre. She will present a storytelling workshop for youth at the library on Friday and entertain children on Saturday afternoon. Participants will have the opportunity to interact with Kim at the High Plains Museum on Saturday morning and enjoy ghost stories at the Bieroc Saturday night.
Since Frank Solivan left the cold climes of Alaska for the bluegrass hotbed of Washington, D.C., he’s built a reputation as a monster mandolinist — and become a major festival attraction with his band, Dirty Kitchen. Solivan, with banjoist Mike Munford, 2013 International Bluegrass Music Association’s Banjo Player of the Year, award-winning guitarist Chris Luquette and bassist Jeremy Middleton, simmer a bluegrass/newgrass stew from instrumental, vocal and songwriting skills so hot, they were named IBMA’s 2014 Instrumental Group of the Year, 2016 Instrumental Group of the Year and earned a 2015 GRAMMY Nomination for Best Bluegrass Album. Storytelling through music is a vitally important component to the success of every Buffalo Commons festival, so the musical groups are not only musicians but story artists. One reviewer’s observation states, “Solivan’s gang of grassers amount to a not-so-secret recipe that’s full of home and heart.” Dirty Kitchen will entertain and inspire musical stories Friday evening at the Bieroc Dinner Cabaret and Saturday evening at the Fox Theatre. The group will perform and be available for questions Saturday morning at the High Plains Museum, as well as at informal gatherings throughout the weekend.
The wealth of talent, experience, and expertise Dr. Charles Peek brings to Buffalo Commons is beyond measure. Storyteller, author, historian, poet, and raconteur, Chuck returns to his hometown to join historian Dr. Ron Naugle and local writer-historian Walt Sehnert to moderate community stories themed “Back in Time, Forward in Anticipation” at the High Plains Museum. He and Naugel will also lead a “Storytelling Savvy” learning opportunity at McCook Community College Friday afternoon. Chuck will present poetry programs Thursday and Friday evenings at the Bieroc and lead the Poetry Slam on Saturday afternoon. Chuck also meets with committee members months prior to the festival to share expertise from his service in many organizations, including the Cather Foundation.
Professor Emeritus of history at Nebraska Wesleyan University, Dr. Ron Naugel, will bring his expertise to Buffalo Commons to help participants learn about Nebraska history and how to share their own stories. He, Chuck Peek, and Walt Sehnert will lead community stories at the High Plains Museum and teach the “Storytelling Savvy” session at McCook Community College on Friday. In addition, Dr. Naugel will be available during informal gatherings throughout the festival. Naugel currently chairs the Nebraska State Hall of Fame Commission. His History of Nebraska, 4th edition earned the 2015 Nebraska Center for the Book award for Best Nonfiction in its class. Buffalo Commons is privileged to welcome such an esteemed historian and educator.