Winfield, Kansas… The river has gone down, the interior area remained high and dry at the Winfield Fairgrounds and the 4 Stages have been rebuilt and are being prepared to showcase artists from around the world as part of the music celebration known as the Walnut Valley Festival. The Walnut Valley folks are in the final stages of scheduling buses from Overland Motor Coach Service, Wichita to shuttle fans from the off grounds camping at the Winfield City Lake and various in town parking lots for anyone wishing to use park and ride services.
With 2016 being the 45th anniversary of the first Walnut Valley Festival and National Flat Picking Championships there is a lot of excitement and anticipation. The lineup of performing artists that will be on stage this year range from seasoned veterans of the first festival held in 1972 to first timers that will be experiencing the loyal music lovers that gather each year for the festival. For some fans however, there will be one fan favorite that has become a member of the Walnut Valley Family over the years obviously absent. In 1998, a unique set of circumstances happened. One of the Walnut Valley Staff ran across a website that had a sample of music on it from Pete Huttlinger, a tune titled Brown Bomber, a fiery piece that seemed to be played by a musician that had way more than 10 fingers. An email was sent to Huttlinger with a simple question – would he be interested in being considered for hiring to perform at the Walnut Valley Festival. A few days later the reply, “I would love to be considered, however since my steady job has disappeared I decided to enter your National Finger Style Guitar contest.” And so it began, Pete’s love for Walnut Valley and a soon to be a favorite of the attendees at Winfield.
After 12 years of being on stage as a hired performer and another 5 years as a contestant included a first place in the 2000 National Finger Style Guitar Championship, Pete lost a life long battle with a heart condition he was born with. On January 15, 2016 Pete passed away. Shortly after that during the planning for the 45th Walnut Valley Festival Fellow performers, some that had shared the stage with Pete and others that had just gotten to know him began expressing their desire to have a celebration of Pete at the festival this year. Pete was known to invite other musicians on stage with him to join him for a tune or two and share the fun. Eventually it was decided to have a special set on Friday night, September 16th of the festival to celebrate the life of Pete Huttlinger. Performer Andy May will host the set that will include Stephen Bennett, Tim Thompson, and Mark Sganga just to name a few.
On most of his trips to Winfield Pete was accompanied by his wife and manager Erin Huttlinger. Contact was made with Erin to secure her blessings for the on stage tribute and after some thought and consideration Erin decided she would like to return to Walnut Valley this year reflect and give her daughter, Pete’s step daughter, Sean Della-Croce an opportunity to see just what made Winfield so special to her and Pete. Erin states “Pete and I so looked forward to coming to Winfield every year. When we first started working together over 18 years ago, the Walnut Valley Festival was one of our first road trips together. We loved the drive from Nashville to Winfield and back, and would get excited to see all of the friendly faces at Pete’s shows. The Walnut Valley Festival is like no other. Even though the thought of attending this year without Pete is painful, the more I pondered it, the more I felt I needed to be there and that it would help me heal. How can I be surrounded by Pete’s fans and friends and not feel inspired and hopeful?”
While at the festival the ladies will be active, Sean will perform on Stage 2 beginning at 8:45 until 9:45 on Thursday morning, September 15th and again on Friday night, Stage 2 beginning at 11:00 pm as a special guest for the Celebration for Pete.
Erin will be available during the festival at the Walnut Valley Mercantile where she will be signing copies of “Joined at the Heart”. “Joined at the Heart” is a book written by Erin and Pete that tells of the highs and lows that the couple endured when Pete had a major stroke that threatened to take away his ability to play the guitar and even lead a normal life that was followed shortly thereafter by advanced congestive heart failure that required him to spend months in special treatment that required the placement of a relatively new concept heart pump which became Pete’s constant companion for the rest of his life. The book will be available along with an assortment of Pete’s music and teaching materials. Erin will be available to personally sign copies of their book at the mercantile located in the T-shirt barn, (Thursday 2:00pm-3:00pm; Friday 4:00pm-5:00pm; Saturday 2:00pm-3:00pm).