Sól Grass Delivers Bluegrass to Washington Island

Mention bluegrass music and thoughts of Appalachia, where the genre of American roots music began in the 1940s, may come to mind. Bluegrass music is a prominent piece of the cultural landscape there and, during the summer, bluegrass music festivals abound in the region. 

But you don’t have to plan a 1,000-mile road trip to get your fix of bluegrass – just catch a ferry to Washington Island for the Sól Grass Music Festival June 17-18. Presented by Backroads Events, it will return for its second year to the Washington Island Campground, 745 East Side Road.

Event organizer Pat Schmidt is not embarrassed to say that the reason why the festival exists is partially self-indulgent.

“I wanted to spend more time in Door County,” she said. “I grew up in Wisconsin, and going to Door County in the summer was the only vacation I ever knew.”

Schmidt also has family history that goes back to when her mother’s side settled on Washington Island in the 1870s. So when she pitched the idea of establishing a bluegrass music festival in Door County to business partner Erin Larwick, Washington Island was an easy choice for its location. 

Despite the peninsula’s dynamic live-music lineup throughout the summer, Schmidt felt there was room for a bluegrass festival. 

“It’s a special place to me, but it also seemed like it would be a really great fit. I love gathering people to listen to bluegrass, and great people attend bluegrass festivals,” she said. “It also brings a lot of people to Door County who haven’t experienced [this place] yet.”

Horseshoes & Hand Grenades

Allowing festivalgoers to experience the location of the festival was just as important to Schmidt as experiencing the music itself, which includes headliners Horseshoes and Hand Grenades on Saturday night.

“Often with the island, you’ll hear people say that they want to go, but they hear there’s not much to do, or they don’t know what to do when they get over there,” she said. “The festival gives people time to find out and explore the island during the day, and then have something to look forward to in the evening. 

A quick visit to the music festival’s website illustrates this with a “choose your own adventure” and links to bike rentals, outdoor tours, parks and other local attractions. 

“A lot of festivals have music all day, but we wanted people to enjoy the essence of the island and explore the places like Schoolhouse Beach and Sand Dunes Beach and get the feel of the island,” Schmidt said. “We want people to relax and spend the day, so we don’t start the music until 4 pm on Friday and then 3 pm on Saturday.”

The music continues until 11 pm both nights, with a special midnight ferry back to the mainland for festivalgoers on Saturday night (reservations are required). 

“But if you have ever been to bluegrass festivals, then you know the real magic starts to happen after the scheduled performances and the spontaneous campfire jams begin,” Schmidt said.

Those with a two-day general-admission ticket will have access to both days of music and unreserved camping. (Sites are first-come, first-served, open-space tent camping.) Event organizers encourage festivalgoers to be a part of the weekend’s music by taking their own instrument to join one of the nighttime campfire picks or get in on a spontaneous jam.

Creating a sense of community is an important aspect of any bluegrass festival, and for that reason, organizers have also teamed up with local businesses and nonprofits, including Door County Brewing Co., Gathering Ground and the Lions Club of Washington Island to ensure that area communities also benefit from the festival.

Last year, a portion of the proceeds went to the Lions Club of Door County, making it the organization’s second-largest fundraising event of the year. Gathering Ground will be on-site to share information about its work and sell event merchandise, a portion of the proceeds of which will go back to the nonprofit. 

“I worked in nonprofits for 20 years, so supporting community organizations is important to us,” Schmidt said. “We want to make sure that we give back to and include our community partners.”

In addition to headliners Horseshoes and Hand Grenades, the festival’s music lineup includes Them Coulee Boys, Feed the Dog, The Cody Sisters, The Honeygoats, Buffalo Galaxy, Laney Lou and the Bird Dogs, Julian Hagen, Steve Stone and the Washington Island Eastsiders, and Dusty Bottle Boxcar Band. 

To get more details and purchase tickets, visit or follow the festival on Facebook. Those interested in a day pass to Saturday’s events and the midnight ferry back to the mainland should email Schmidt at [email protected].

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