While the entire country will celebrate Independence Day later this week, residents of Hays and the surrounding area know this is the time of year for the biggest festival in northwest Kansas.
The 19th annual Wild West Festival kicks off Wednesday with its traditionally strong lineup of music, rides, food and entertainment for the whole family. And since there are fireworks bans in place throughout all of Ellis County, the WWF aerial pyrotechnics not only will be the biggest show in town -- it will be the only show in town. Ensure you have a good view of the sky for the fireworks that begin at 10 p.m. Thursday.
Hays Municipal Park on south Main Street will be the place to be for live music starting Wednesday. The headline act will be Love and Theft, an American Country Music Award-nominated duo. Warming up for them will be Dustin Lynch, preceded by Kansas farm boy Rusty Rierson and Forever Young.
On Friday, Sister Whiskey will get the audience rocking first. With band members from Russell, Liebenthal, Sylvan Grove and Salina, Sister Whiskey starts at 6 p.m. Following them will be the Cleverly Family, picking their way to Hays from the Ozark Mountains. Capping off the eclectic lineup will be headliner Neal McCoy, who makes regular appearances in country music's top 10 songs and albums.
Onstage Saturday will be The District, followed by another Kansas band -- Homebrew. Homebrew is a quartet of rockers from Great Bend. The finale act will be none other than the Little River Band. The Australian band was huge during the 1970s and '80s, and remains solidly booked in venues throughout the world. If "Reminiscing," "Lonesome Loser," "Help Is on Its Way" or "It's a Long Way There" don't automatically register in your head, they will once you hear them. The vocal group is a mainstay on the radio to this day.
Of course, there is more to the Wild West Festival than music. Kids of all ages will be seen at the Heart of America Carnival set up west of the concert stage. The carnival runs from 6 to 10 p.m. all four nights.
Wild Bill Hickok will be making frequent appearances at the Ellis County Historical Museum in the form of historical interpreter Dave Wood. Kids 15 and younger can swim for free at the Hays Aquatic Park from noon to 7 p.m. Thursday. There will be a baseball tournament at Larks Park, a soccer tournament at Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex, a 5K Run/Walk and the Ellis County Ministerial Alliance's Swingin' for Support golf tournament.
And don't forget the parade on Main Street starting at 10 a.m. Saturday. "Get Your Wild West Fest On" will be grand marshalled by Keith Eilts, this year's All-American Citizen. Eilts, who has decades of service as a local Boy Scout leader, also will be honored with special recognition Saturday night at the concert.
In short, there's something for everyone at the annual Wild West Festival. For more details, see the insert inside today's paper or visit www.wildwestfestival.com.
Editorial by Patrick Lowry