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Folk Festival celebrates it's 20th year
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The Gays Mills Folk Festival of Music and Dance turns 20 years old this spring and the event’s organizers are definitely excited at the prospect.

“Every year, you think it couldn’t be any better than this,” said Tim Jenkins, one of the festival’s original organizers. “In a way the 20 years has been kind of a blur, but you’re surprised every year. I don’t think this year will be any different.”

The local folk festival is scheduled for May 11, 12 and 13. As always, there will be a big square dance on Friday night to kick off the event. Then, on Saturday, there will be May Crown making, Maypole dancing, folk music workshops and a fiddle bee in Lions Park near the bridge. This year, those daytime activities in the park on Saturday will be presented for free and everyone’s invited, according to Jane Keeley, another longtime folk festival organizer.

The folk festival will also present a new event this year, a Saturday Afternoon Concert in Lions Park, featuring the Irish music duo of Cilla Skrade and Matt Shortridge. Cilla, from LaCrosse, plays the button accordion. She’s originally from East Galway, Ireland, the epicenter of button accordion players.

“Cilla has played with some of the best Irish musicians in the world,” Jenkins said. Shortridge, who lives in Viroqua, was described as a world-class fiddle player.

The Gays Mills Folk Festival scheduled for Mother’s Day Weekend is part of the larger Gays Mills Spring Festival, which also features the Little Britches Rodeo, the Village of Gays Mills Community Open House and an antique tractor pull. The spring festival used to be called the Gays Mills Apple Blossom Festival, but the fickle blossoms were just too hard to predict. Although this year’s blossoms will be long gone by the time the festival occurs, there will be plenty of people cruising through the orchards for a look anyway.

After a Saturday afternoon in Lions Park, the folk festival crowd will head up Main Street. Many will enjoy the traditional chili supper put on by the Kickapoo Exchange Natural Food Co-op. Then, it will be time for the festival’s signature event, the Saturday Night Concert starting at 7:30 p.m. in the Old Town Community Building on Main Street.

This year’s Gays Mills Folk Festival Concert will feature Yid Vicious, a Yiddish folk music band from Madison, as well as the Roddys, a country-blues duet from Viola and the String Ties, a LaCrosse-based bluegrass band.

Yid Vicious plays Klezmer music, which is a style of traditional Yiddish folk music of Eastern European Jews. The band has been together since 1995 and has a large following in the Madison area.

The Roddys from Viola feature Terre Van Haren, the manager of the Hillcrest Orchard, and her husband Doc. Where country meets the blues is how the duo bills itself. Like Yid Vicious, the Roddys have a following in the Madison area.

Local residents may have seen the String Ties playing at the Driftless Area Art Festival in past years. The bluegrass band features a banjo, mandolin, guitar and bass player.

All three groups will be presenters at Saturday workshops in Lions Park.

The concert’s emcee for the festival’s twentieth anniversary is none other than Carl Schlecht, also known as the Kickapoo Bard. Schlecht will entertain with his unique a cappella songs written about the life he sees around him including a couple of sing-alongs. One of the bard’s favorite is about the two most recent floods to hit the village.

The last event of the folk festival is the Sunday Gospel Sing held in Lions Park on the banks of the Kickapoo River at 11 a.m. 

If you have been to the Gays Mills Folk Festival before or if you’ve been to them all or if you’ve never been to one in your life, the event’s 20-year anniversary is one folk festival you won’t want to miss.