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FairFest Music Festival: The Heartland's Most Eclectic Music Festival Gets Down to the Roots, Sept. 2, 3 & 4 in Fairfield
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FairFest Music Festival: The Heartland's Most Eclectic Music Festival Gets Down to the Roots, Sept. 2, 3 & 4 in Fairfield

The fourth annual Fairfest music festival and food symposium will take place September 2 – 4 in downtown Fairfield. 

Since its’ inception in 2013, Fairfest has brought an amazing lineup of elite musicians to Fairfield, a town of 10,000 in southeast Iowa. The festival puts Fairfield in the conversation as the Midwest’s most eclectic small town.

Year four of this grassroots founded festival brings together five great legacies in the world of rock: blues legend Buddy Guy; father of rockabilly and country sensation Marty Stuart; 1960’s progressive folk rock icon Donovan on his 50th anniversary tour, Iowa’s own roots music icon Greg Brown; and Dobro guitarist Jerry Douglas of the Jerry Douglas Band who got his start with Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs. A dozen other groups will also perform.  

Visit for complete line-up and ticketing information.

The concept has been to develop a festival based on quality and experience. The process and results have been fulfilling, with the most often stated observation being ‘transformational’ by both audience members and many of the world-class musicians.

Fairfest is an unbounded experience in the most unexpected of places.  The main festival stage is set on Main Street at the north end of downtown with the backdrop of the historic Jefferson County Court House with resurrected clock tower steeple on one side, and the Fairfield Arts and Convention Center on the other.  Food vendors and artisans line Main Street and the town square to supplement the diverse Fairfield restaurant, coffee house and bar scene.  In totality, it is an amazingly comfortable and accessible environment that brings out the best in the musicians and provides endless joy for the audience.

In addition to the 2016 music lineup, this year’s Fairfest includes the Planetary Food Summit, a symposium on food rights, quality, and equitable distribution.  Dr. Raj Patel, a world leader on food rights will speak on ‘The World That Food Made’ Saturday at 2 p.m., in the Stephen Sondheim Theatre. A list of all food summit ticketed and non-ticketed events, hosted by the Sustainable Living Coalition, can be found online at

The lineup for each of the three days of music is extraordinary and would easily fill a stage at most of the biggest festivals in the country. 

Friday headliner Buddy Guy is the last of the great blues guitarists and progenitor of blues rock, the inspiration to Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn and countless others.  Prior to Buddy’s set is a performance by Quinn Sullivan, Buddy’s protégé considered the next great blues guitarist. 

And, as if that’s not enough, the Main Stage opening set will feature Ian Moore and The Lossy Coils.  In the 1990’s, Ian was widely considered the heir-apparent to Vaughn, touring with The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan, only to disappear from the scene, but back now with a force.  Altogether, Friday night alone is a rare opportunity to see three of the greatest guitarists in blues/ rock history on the same stage in one night.

And that ain’t all folks.  Another legendary musician, New Orleans style, Mike Dillon and the Mike Dillon Band open Fairfest ’16 in the Sondheim Theatre. Dillon has worked with most of the New Orleans greats such as Les Claypool and Annie DiFranco.

Friday night concludes with a late night Main Stage set with Iowa world-beat dance band Bambu.

On Saturday, there may be a better lineup of bluegrass musicians than Fairfest, but it would be highly debatable. Headlined by bluegrass/country performer, and some say, founder of “rockabilly” Marty Stuart and His Fabulous Superlatives, the night explodes with talent.  Stuart embodies the history of Nashville bluegrass and rockabilly, beginning  from his teenage days with Lester Flatt and other bluegrass greats, several years as a member of Johnny Cash’s band and progressing as one of the most respected and entertaining performers in the genre. 

Playing prior to Marty Stuart will be Dobro guitarist, the great Jerry Douglas and The Jerry Douglas Band, whose roots also tie to Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, so much so he formed the Earls of Leicaster to record an award winning album as homage to the pair.  Best known for his work with Allison Krauss and Union Station, Douglas is one of the most highly acclaimed musicians in the history of bluegrass and country music.  He is an unprecedented 16-time Grammy award-winner, gets better by the year, and is surrounded with a band of elite musicians.  This is not traditional laid back bluegrass - think David Grissman meets Django Reinhardt meets Jimi Hendrix.  Be sure and get there by 6 p.m. for an all-star set featuring Tim Carbone from Railroad Earth; Bonnie Paine, Daniel Rodriguez, and Dango Rose from Elephant Revival; and Arthur Lee Land from Great American Taxi, joined by Mike Dillon

This is top-shelf jamming from the best progressive bluegrass musicians in the world.  In addition to being a founding member of Railroad Earth, Tim Carbone has played with The Band, Phil Lesh and Friends and many others.  Opening the night will be The Lilly Hiatt Band (John Hiatt’s daughter and a highly acclaimed artist in her own right).

The Sunday final features four different artists who all could headline by themselves.  At 5:30 p.m. on the Main Stage will be Charlie Parr, regarded as the best folk blues guitarist since Mississippi John Hurt.  Following Charlie will be Fairfield’s own and Iowa legend in roots music Greg Brown.  While most performers tend to seek fame and fortune, Greg has almost gone in the opposite direction. However, when looking at his body of work, he can be dubbed the best songwriter in American history comparing favorably to Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, and whoever you would like to bring into the debate. 

Later Sunday, Bonnie Paine and Friends again takes the Fairfest stage. As she did last year as the lead singer for Elephant Revival, Paine will bring an unprecedented level of spirit and quality to Fairfest. 

For the grand finale of Fairfest, after a special solo acoustic benefit performance in the Sondheim Theater, (additional ticket purchase required) Donovan, 1960’s progressive folk rock icon will join Paine and Friends for a concluding set.  Donovan, more than the Beatles (whose work he influenced) or any other artist of the 60’s / 70’s era, was the troubadour who captured the spirit and energy of that time.  This finale set with Donovan and Bonnie Paine and Friends will be pure magic and a lifetime experience.

By the way, the cost for a full weekend pass of all of this musical greatness is $39, which is like buying a Lexus for $500. 

Visit for more information on Fairfield, Iowa. 

Visit for more information on the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center, host of FairFest 2016! 


Chris Johnson is a co-founder of Fairfest and longtime supporter of music and the arts in Fairfield and San Francisco.



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