After a three-year hiatus, Lightning Bug Music Festival will return to Sunset Hill Farm in Valparaiso, IN September 9th–10th with an expanded multi-day, multi-stage format and a renewed emphasis on community thanks to new president John Westbrook and his team. Founded as a nonprofit in 2015, Lightning Bug Music Festival is stepping up its game this year, bringing an array of top-shelf talent to “The Region” in Northwest, IN, including Railroad Earth (two nights), Ghost Light, Lindsay Lou, The Lil Smokies, Cedric Burnside, Duane Betts, Charlie Parr (two nights), Holly Bowling, Mikaela Davis & Southern Star, and more.
In previous years, Lightning Bug Music Festival has taken place on a single stage on a single day, but this year, the festival is adding a new main stage right next to the existing barn stage, so artists will alternate stages with quick five-minute changeovers between sets, and attendees won’t have to miss any of the action.
This year’s lineup is basically consistent with past years, with mostly bluegrass, Americana, and folk and a couple electric acts to break things up. “I wanted to maintain the style of music while integrating other bands that complement the strictly bluegrass, newgrass genre,” John Westbrook told Live For Live Music. “It was important to me to include bands such as Ghost Light that are typically not on a festival like this, but I think the flow of music is very, very important.”
Westbrook was particularly excited to highlight lesser known artists like Milwaukee’s Old Pup and Pajamas, from Ann Arbor, MI. “[Pajamas] have been touring super hard. They’re just getting their feet wet, but they’re all incredibly talented musicians. The drummer Graham Low is classically trained from music school and sings. He’s like Levon Helm. And I think the point of music festivals in my eyes is to draw folks who know bands through the festival. And then, the best festivals I’ve ever been to, you see a handful of bands that you’ve just never heard of before and you leave as a fan.”
The festival will also host the debut of Marcus Rezak‘s Led Is Dead, which blends the music of Led Zeppelin and the Grateful Dead. The weekend’s artists at large will include Trevor Shepich, a 17-year-old guitarist and multi-instrumentalist who sat in with Billy Strings in Louisville last May, and Rushad Eggleston, who goes by Rush Vicious. “He’s probably the most unique person I’ve ever seen or met in the music world,” Westbrook said of Rush Vicious. “He plays the cello with a kazoo on the top. He was nominated for Grammy in 2004. He just beats to his own drum, and he’s a weekend artist at large. The plan is that he’ll be sharing his music in very unconventional ways the whole weekend. So you may not see him on a stage, but you’re probably going to see him on your way to the stage or in the campgrounds or at an onsite activity.”
Additional performers on this year’s lineup include River Spell, Sicard Hollow, Cordovas, and Debutants. The fest is also adding camping for the first time this year. Campers can pull their cars right up to their campsites, which will be located on a pristine field that “has never been utilized for anything other than a cross-country race,” (so you know it’s flat!) just a short walk from the stages. There will also be RV camping as well as a family camping area.
Children are very much welcome at the festival, and there will be kid-friendly activities throughout the event, including slackline lessons courtesy of Slack-Librium, a Lake Michigan-inspired rock skipping competition, and friendly barn animals. There will also be bubbles—lots and lots of bubbles. “Bubbles are very important. Very, very important,” John Westbrook said. “A guy’s whole job is to just have giant bubbles flowing all day and teach the kids how that works.”
Children and adults are invited to enjoy nature walks led by professional arborists who will teach about all of the trees and foliage onsite, and a local yogi and professional chiropractor will be offering morning yoga and meditation sessions. A health and wellness market will also take place on Saturday, showcasing different local vendors.
Lightning Bug Music Festival was initially founded as a nonprofit dedicated to helping protect the nearby Indiana Dunes. This year, the festival has partnered with Backline, a nonprofit that works to provide mental health resources to music industry professionals. “To me, it was an absolute no-brainer to make our mission to put focus and help support causes that allow live music to happen,” Westbrook expressed. “So as I was thinking about who to support, I thought of Backline because they are such a strong organization. Jeff Austin was my spirit animal all through my younger years, and Neal Casal—amazing. Seeing those two people take their own lives was really tough to understand. And knowing that Backline was created out of that was just so powerful to me. I think everything that Backline has done since it started is super impactful. And we as fans would never have the ability to be happy through music if the musicians didn’t exist, if they were unable to perform their craft.”
He continued, “We recognize how important live music is to the mental wellbeing of not only the artists, but the fans as well. And it’s kind of a circle. So we’re super, super excited to support Backline through this cause and a portion of our proceeds will go to Backline. They’ve been helpful through the whole process. And I hope to support them for a long time because I know how much they’ve helped the artists that I care about.”
Tickets for Lightning Bug Music Festival 2022 are on sale now. View the daily festival lineup below, and to find more information and purchase tickets, visit the festival website.