Rock County Folk Symposium Brings Experimental Music to the Woods

Jul. 29, 2014
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The Rock County Folk Symposium is celebrating its fifth anniversary in August, but you can be forgiven if you’ve never heard of it before. Until now the Janesville-area music festival has been a fairly small affair, hosted on a private farm that could accommodate about 100 or 150 people. For this year's event, however, the festival has scaled up to a formal venue that can hold roughly twice that, Camp Rotamer (5245 E. Rotamer Rd. in Janesville), an old boys camp not unlike the ones you might have visited as a kid, complete with cabins and a lodge and everything. Picture a more scenic, less stabby Camp Crystal Lake and you get the idea.

The camp isn’t the most obvious venue for a music festival, but organizer Kyle Pfister says that’s by design. “The feel of this festival is different from any festival I’ve ever been to before,” Pfister says. “It’s very intimate and small. The bands don’t just play on a tall stage. They come down and you share a s’more with them. Late night there’s a campfire where people bring their guitars and sit around and sing, so there’s a casual feel to it unlike any other festival. We didn’t want to move it to a real music venue where there would be that separation between the bands and the audience.”

This year’s lineup features a smattering of folk and experimental rock bands from around the Milwaukee, Madison and Eau Claire areas, most of whom run in related circles:  All Tiny Creatures, Jon Mueller’s Death Blues, Dietrich Gosser, Double Ewes, Sayth, Adelyn Rose, Softly, Dear and Bed Times. Some of those acts seem a natural fit for the rustic surroundings, others less so, but Pfister says the juxtaposition between electronic-leaning bands and the outdoors can make for some truly memorable performances.

“There’s nothing like seeing an electronic act in the woods,” he says. “The performances have this really woodsy, almost supernatural feel, so we really think it’s a good interplay. It’s a chance for bands to incorporate nature into their sets.

Tickets for the Aug. 23 festival, which will also feature work from 20 visual artists, are $30 and include a campsite and parking. Carry-in food and alcohol is allowed. Furthermore will sell beer and offer $20 unlimited alcohol wristbands. For more information, visit


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