The Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival

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The Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival, which is held on Father’s Day weekend in Monroe, Wisconsin, is a free event that features hot air balloons, a classic car show, helicopter rides, crafts and exhibits, and, of course, LIVE MUSIC! It’s a two-day event (Friday and Saturday), but we just went for the Saturday performances.

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Image Credit: Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival

Support Your Community by Supporting Local Music!

We like music festivals of all sizes, and while most people think of the big events like Bonnaroo and Summer Camp, there’s a lot to be said for small, local festivals. While the big ones have corporate sponsors who take most of the profits, many small festivals donate some or all profits to local causes. Proceeds from the Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival go to The Arc, a nationwide community-based organization that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival: A Free Event

Admission to the festival is free, including the music. You can even bring in your own food and soft drinks, but you’re not supposed to bring outside alcohol. Proceeds from drink sales go to the local chapter of The Arc, so they encourage people to buy on site. We did see a few outside beers in the venue, though. (C’mon, people. It’s a free event and the beer money goes to charity. Don’t be cheapskates.)

More than Just Balloons and Blues

In addition to the music, balloons, cars, and arts, there’s food (typical food truck fare) and drinks at pretty reasonable prices. On the adult beverage side, they offered several varieties of beer from the New Glarus Brewing Company, a local microbrewery whose beer is only sold in Wisconsin. I enjoyed a couple of pints of Moon Man, which I’d never tried before. (Coors Light was available for those who prefer watery beer.) They also had a few types of wine and even some cocktails.

Sam Bryant and Dave Fields enjoying the fest before their set.

The Music at the Balloon and Blues Festival

The weather killed the balloon part of the festival, but wind and clouds can’t stop the music, so we grabbed our raincoats and headed north of the “Cheddar Curtain” to hear a full day of great blues. Here are a few highlights:

The afternoon’s music kicked off with The Bird Dog Blues Band from nearby Madison, WI.

Bird Dog Blues Band
Bird Dog Blues Band

Next up was the Ivy Ford Band, fronted by singer/guitarist Ivy Ford, who made her Chicago Blues Festival debut a week before.

Ivy Ford Band
Ivy Ford Band
Ivy Ford Band

New York blues guitarist Dave Fields made another trip to the Midwest, this time playing his first ever show in Wisconsin. (We reviewed the April show he did in Rockford, IL.)

A Slow Jam with Dave Fields

Remember balloon animals? At one point, a kid walked up to the stage holding a mass of balloons twisted into a guitar shape – an air guitar, as it were. Dave noticed him, jumped down from the stage, and jammed with him for a while. (Dave is great with kids. He frequently volunteers with Blues in the Schools.)

Dave Fields with an Air Guitarist

In the next video, Dave shows off several of his talents: shredding, slide guitar, and keyboards. Oh, and one more talent: recruiting a great rhythm section!

A fast jam with Dave Fields

The festival wrapped up with a great set from Brandon Santini, a young harmonica player who’s gaining worldwide attention. We checked the radar map just before he started and saw a storm heading our way. We thought about just going home at that point, but I thought, “Let’s at least catch a couple of songs and get some video.” Well, after a couple of songs, there was no way we were leaving early – these guys were outstanding!

Brandon Santini
Brandon Santini
Brandon Santini

The rain held out until the end, with a few sprinkles falling just as Brandon Santini finished his set. We made it back to the car just before the heavy rain started. But even if we’d gotten drenched on the walk to the parking lot, it would have been worth it to hear all of Brandon’s performance.

Check out the Monroe Balloon and Blues Festival page.

More Music to Come!

Next up for us on the music scene: Founders Fest, the Blues, Brews, and Food Truck Festival, the Great Blue Heron Music Festival, Phish at Alpine Valley, and our first trip to Red Rocks.

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