Love Fest in the Midwest

Festival-goers enjoying the music at the main stage at last year’s Love Fest in the Midwest.

Story and video by Dylan Guenther, NewsNetNebraska

Pictures courtesy of Jessica Cerizo, Julie Smith and Craig Mustard.

The first Love Fest in the Midwest, began last year with the most unlikely of funds, a government-issued check.

“It was the first time I had ever gotten a tax return, and I was really excited about it,” 22 year-old Julie Smith said.

Love Fest in the Midwest is Nebraska’s first music and camping festival. This year, it runs Thursday, May 12 through Saturday, May 14. Smith is setting up the second annual Love Fest in the Midwest. This year, it has been moved closer to Omaha to Bellevue Berry Farm. Last year, it was held outside of Wahoo, Neb.

The list of bands coming this year is more impressive. Keller Williams, a more national act, headlines the festival this year. Other national acts will be in attendance, including Family Groove Company, Mountain Sprout and The Schwag.

The foundation of Love Fest in the Midwest started with Smith’s early days as an organizer of peace rallies. With a little help from her friends along the way, Smith started putting together about a half dozen events for free. They usually cost her between $500 and $800.

To Smith, it’s a small price to pay to bring people together in the name of peace.

And it was the cost of traveling out of state to festivals like Wakarusa in Kansas, the 10,000 Lakes Festival in Minnesota and Banaroo in Alabama. They all sparked Smith’s idea for Love Fest. Smith’s dad, Wink, sometimes helped pay for his daughter’s festival trips.

“I’d either beg him for money or he’d make it my birthday present or my Christmas present,” Smith said. “I started going to festivals with a different attitude. I tried to figure out what went on behind the scenes.”

Wink told his daughter that she should put on a music and camping festival in Nebraska. For Julie Smith, that festival was last year’s Love Fest in the Midwest. With a little more financial support from her father, Smith’s festival was off and running.

“It’s really a family thing,” Smith said. “My dad supports the whole thing and I wish more people knew that. I’m 22, and I don’t know how people think I come up with the money to do this, but it’s all thanks to my dad.”

Wink Smith says that festivals aren’t exactly his thing, but he likes to help his kids. “I support her, I always get behind my kids and help them with whatever they need,” said Wink Smith.

Julie Smith and her daughter at a festival in 2009.

Another huge contribution comes from the local bands who often play for free, according to Julie Smith.

“When I was putting on free events, I was spending money on doing it,” she said. “They were just excited I was setting it up so they would play for free, and that’s an amazing contribution.”

The bands know that Smith doesn’t make any money off these events so they don’t expect to make any either. Craig Mustard, founder of Temperature0 productions and a member of the band TEMPO said they play to help out the community.

“There are a lot of bands that want to do things for community reasons, for reasons beyond just making money,” Mustard said. “Most band members I know of the best bands I know, they all have jobs and that’s how they make their money.”

Festival participants say there appears to be more buzz surrounding this year’s Love Fest.

Nick Keeler with his 2011 Love Fest in the Midwest ticket.

“I’ve been to a few music festivals,” Nick Keeler said. “I’ve heard a lot of good things about last year’s Love Fest and am really excited about going this year.”

Something that disappointed Smith last year were campers who didn’t clean up after themselves.

“The campers did a terrible job cleaning up after themselves last year,” she said. “There were like 40 people who didn’t even take down their campsites. It was so disappointing.”

With only eight volunteers lined up last year picking up after more than a thousand people was no small task.

“I just figured people would pick up after themselves,” Smith said. “These poor people, they worked like slaves. They couldn’t even clean out the whole place.”

This year, Smith hopes with more trash cans and recycling areas, people will clean up better in their new venue at Bellevue Berry Farm.

See video below: A look at the sights and sounds of Love Fest in the Midwest.

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With the new venue comes different opportunities. Last year, they didn’t serve alcohol. This year, beer will be served at Bellevue Berry Farm because it has a liquor license and will carry the liability. Bellevue Berry Farm will keep all the money from beer sales which doesn’t really bother Smith.

After all, she says she’s not in it for the money.

Some things that do revolve around money are paying for headline acts like Keller Williams.

“It’s all about money with bands, but Keller (Williams) is playing for a lot less than he usually does because he’s headlining the festival,” she said. “He’s usually not a headliner.”

Wink Smith is confident that his daughter will learn from her mistakes to try to make the festival a better experience for all.

“She’s learned from each one she’s put on,” he said. “She sits down at the end of it to figure out what she could have done better. What could make it a better experience for the crowd? She has spent a lot of time doing that.”

Love Fest in the Midwest tickets are $60 and can be bought at Illuzion Glass, G&G Smoke Shop or online. You can also go and buy a single day pass for 25$.



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