Festival combines camping, creek and bluegrass music

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It’s become known as a festival with character.

In only its second year, the Nippersink Music and Arts Festival July 4-5 in Spring Grove is expected to draw hundreds of artists and fans of bluegrass to what organizers describe as a laid-back, family-friendly appreciation of music.

Visitors can drive, bike, hike and even canoe to the festival, situated along the Nippersink Creek on Solon Road. They’re invited to come for the day or camp overnight to take in a weekend’s worth of 39 musical acts from seven states and other entertainment, including hula hoop, kung fu, guitar and yoga workshops.

“We all grew up big music lovers, and there was just nothing like this in the area,” said Jeremy Bates, one of the event’s organizers who also performs with the band Huckleberry Green.

“We have a lot of beautiful property in the area, and we figured we’d do something with it,” Bates said. “Some of [these bands] are really up-and-coming and doing some big things. We’re trying to introduce a lot of these bands to the region and the community.”

Among the numerous acts are headliner Hot Buttered Rum, a progressive bluegrass act based in San Francisco, Rumpke Mountain Boys, The Heard, Horsehoes & Hand Grenades and Pert’ Near Sandstone.

The bands are well-known in the underground music scene, Bates said, and so is the festival.

It’s developed a “great vibe and buzz,” said Adam Greuel, a guitar and dobro player and vocalist with Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, a Stevens Point, Wisconsin-based band.

Touring throughout the country, bands often talk about some of the best festivals to attend, he said.

“The Nippersink is one of the most brought up,” he said. “It’s a special thing, and we’re happy to be a part of it.”

Pert’ Near Sandstone, a string band from Minneapolis and a repeat performer at the festival, became a fan as well.

“A lot of the festivals will try to be bigger than their britches, and try to be this huge pop marketable thing,” said Nate Sipe, who plays mandolin and fiddle, sings and writes for the band. “You don’t necessarily get the character of the land you’re on and the feel of the people living in that area.

“A festival like Nippersink, you really feel like you’re there hanging out with the locals. You’re there with the trees. You’re sleeping in a hammock or pitching a tent by the creek. It definitely has more of a local vibe to it.”

Drawing its name from an expression their grandfathers used to say – “Pert’ near” or pretty close – and a reference to the Mississippi river bluffs where they grew up and still live, the band has toured for about 10 years playing its string band music.

Band members are influenced by old-time music known as dance music rather than performance-based, Sipe said.

“Most people would call it bluegrass because we have the typical banjo, guitar and upright bass. We go for more of a traditional slant to it, kind of pre-dating bluegrass,” Sipe said.

“We’re all about playing hard, dancing and kicking up dirt.”

Along with the music, the festival also tries to promote environmental causes by working with community groups, such as the McHenry County Conservation District, and by donating proceeds to the Nippersink Watershed Association.

“We’re not only trying to throw a music festival, but we’re also trying to have that opportunity to get a little bit of environmental awareness out there,” Bates said.

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