For the sixth year in a row, more than 1,000 Wyomingites will descend on Riverside — a small town of 52 — for a two-day musical festival featuring everything from punk rock to honky-tonk, beginning 4 p.m. July 28.
WHAT Fest, in its sixth year at Riverside and its 13th year of existence, has grown considerably since its humble inception as a venue for Cody High School students and their bands, said Adam Bender, a WHAT Fest organizer and one its founders.
“It’s not your typical festival,” Bender said. “It’s straight up grassroots Wyoming.
“We try to do as much Wyoming as we can and we do incorporate a little of the Front Range, but that’s just to increase the quality or genres for our patrons that come to the festival. You know, sometimes we have to dip into Fort Collins, (Colorado), to pick up a reggae artist.”
WHAT Fest 2017 will feature 29 Wyoming acts, including Redbush and J Shogren Shanghai’d, as well as headliners Luke Bell — who is from Cody — and Tallgrass from Fort Collins.
“Primarily, especially this year, we’ve really made a focus on bringing a lot of top Wyoming acts to Riverside and we’ll be featuring probably the largest selection of Wyoming music that there is in the state,” said Carter Parks, a WHAT Fest organizer.
WHAT Fest strives to have a little bit for everyone, Bender said.
“We try to get anywhere from rock to Americana to punk rock to singer-songwriters to straight country and honky-tonk,” he said. “We just try to do whatever we can get, you know. Good music is good music.”
The festival engulfs Riverside’s Bear Trap Café & Bar. While the bulk of activity — and two of the festival’s stages — are outside, a third stage is being played simultaneously inside the bar, which features acoustic music and smaller acts.
Attendees are invited to camp, either across the street or nearby, although it’s suggested they make a small donation to the campsite landowners.
Camping has been an integral part of WHAT Fest since it moved out of Cody and helps make the event more of a destination festival, Parks said.
“We like that it’s in a small town, because it means you have to go somewhere,” he said. “ … It’s not just another day in Laramie or another day in Cheyenne or something like that. It’s kind of something special.”
WHAT Fest is supported by grants, donations, fundraisers throughout the year and the army of volunteers needed to run the information desk, sell tickets, run sound and lights, move band equipment and cook meals for the performers and the other volunteers.
The festival usually has as many as 75 volunteers, Parks said.
“At the festival, we really encourage anyone who enjoys the festival to help us out with volunteering,” he said. “We’re always looking for new volunteers and if you volunteer for a while, you get in free and it’s also just a great way to become part of the community.”
Parks said the organizers were also bringing in other kinds of art to the festival, with art workshops and yoga for July 29.
“We’re just trying to kind of bring more than just music to the event,” Parks said.
The festival can be a great way for up-and-coming Wyoming acts to gain notoriety, because they get to perform on the same stages as more well-known acts from throughout the region, Bender said.
“We try to pair them with more established acts because a lot of times it leads to them getting a gig, opening up with them and stuff,” he said. “It gets the ball rolling, you know.”
WHAT Fest 2017 runs July 28-29 at the Bear Trap Café & Bar in Riverside. The first act starts at 4 p.m. July 28 and the first act July 29 starts at 12:15 p.m.
Tickets are $10 for July 28, $15 for July 29 or $20 for the weekend. Children receive free admission.
Go to www.whatfest.com for more information.