Typically one of the first festivals of summer for Minnesota and Wisconsin fans, the rootsy Blue Ox Music Fest could still retain that distinction in 2021 as it tests the return of live music in mid-August with a lineup featuring Jason Isbell, Shakey Graves, the Sam Bush Band, Infamous Stringdusters and homegrown hosts Pert Near Sandstone.
Organizers of the seventh annual three-day festival — staged at a scenic campground overlooking the Chippewa River near Eau Claire, Wis. — optimistically announced their lineup Wednesday along with the new dates, Aug. 19-21. The fest usually takes place in early June.
Tickets are on sale now via blueoxmusicfestival.com at $199 for a three-day pass or $180 for two days. Single day tickets are not yet available. Due to rollovers from this past year's COVID-spoiled festivals, organizers said tickets are already 50% sold out.
Americana songwriting stalwart Isbell and his band the 400 Unit are a big get for the little roots music fest that could, as they're coming off another acclaimed album in 2020 ("Reunions") and were due to play the 8,000-capacity Armory in Minneapolis this past June. That date was rescheduled for April 16 but will have to be rescheduled again. Isbell representatives confirmed they're planning for a new Minneapolis date but have not settled on one yet.
The rest of the Blue Ox lineup hews closely to the festival's Pert Near Sandstone-led core brand of bluegrassy string bands and acoustic roots acts, with Charlie Parr, Leftover Salmon, Horseshoes & Hand Grenades, Them Coulee Boys, the Lil Smokies, the High 48's and Barbaro also on the schedule.
Some noteworthy (relative) newcomers on the list include California folkie Molly Tuttle, Texas countryman Charley Crockett and Robert Plant's sidekick of late, Lillie Mae.
Many concert promoters and festival organizers are planning on the touring industry not returning en masse from the pandemic until autumn 2021, which is when America's biggest festival, Bonnaroo, has been reset (Sept. 2-5). In Minnesota, June's Rock the Garden festival has already been called off, but the Twin Cities Summer Jam, Winstock and We Fest are all moving ahead with mid-summer plans.
Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658