In the heart of rural Illinois, the Kalyx Center for Sustainability serves as a sanctuary for music aficionados, at least twice yearly. Each autumn, this unique venue hosts the Hogchute Harvest Festival, a one-day event that showcases an array of local and regional talent. Brad Olson, a seasoned musician and promoter, envisioned a festival that diverged from the large, corporate-run events that have become increasingly prevalent. “We wanted to create a festival that was more about the music and the community,” Olson states. His vision has been realized to an extraordinary extent, as the festival has grown to become a staple in the local music scene.
Olson’s inspiration for the festival was rooted in his affinity for alt-country music and his fond memories of attending shows at the Kalyx Center. “I always felt there was something unique about that site,” he recalls. The festival has evolved significantly since its inception, with the first Hogchute Opry taking place a decade ago and the first Harvest in 2016. Over the years, it has developed a distinct aesthetic and type of show, transforming from a primarily alt-country event to a more eclectic gathering.
When it comes to curating the lineup, Olson has a community-centric approach. He often includes bands he’s encountered at local venues and is open to branching out to include new talent. “If you’ve heard a new band recently that popped out to you, send them to me to consider,” Olson encourages. The festival’s lineup is not just a list of performers but a reflection of a community that is eager to share its artistic gifts.
One of the standout features of the Hogchute Harvest Festival is its unique and intimate atmosphere. “It’s a music festival for local musicians by local musicians,” says Erin Erdman, secretary of the Hogchute organization. The festival is intentionally independent and community-driven, with volunteers playing a significant role in its success.
The venue itself, the Kalyx Center barn, adds another layer of uniqueness. Olson describes the center as a place that radiates positive energy, a sentiment that is echoed by the festival’s attendees. The festival also includes an open-jam bonfire, a concept that came about organically and has been met with enthusiasm. “I’m always like, proud and I get this goofy grin on my face when I see people seeing the [40-foot high] bonfire for the first time,” Olson shares.
Affordability and sustainability are key pillars of the Hogchute Harvest Festival. Olson and his team manage to keep ticket prices low through community donations and merchandise sales. “A lot of people booked are in the local ‘collective,’ so no one expects to be paid very much at all,” Olson explains. Sustainability efforts include a focus on recycling, with multiple bins for different recyclables provided at the venue. Beyond just recycling, the festival is held at the Kalyx Center for Sustainability, a venue that is committed to sustainable practices. “This crowd is generally already in the mindset,” Olson points out, indicating that the festival’s eco-friendly ethos is a natural extension of its community’s values.
The festival’s commitment to community involvement extends beyond the stage and into the crowd. Volunteers from the local area are instrumental in the festival’s success, from setting up the venue to ensuring everything runs smoothly on the day of the event. “All the volunteers are the community,” Olson emphasizes. This sense of community also manifests in the festival’s unique features like the open-jam bonfire. “People will stay up and jam until 4 or 5 a.m.,” Olson notes, highlighting the festival’s commitment to fostering a space for artistic expression.
The Hogchute Harvest Festival has also been a launchpad for local talent. Bands and artists who have performed at the festival often go on to achieve greater recognition, both locally and beyond. Olson recalls some memorable performances from past festivals, mentioning artists like Ryan Brewer and his Calliope Musicals band, and Rebecca Rego. “Everyone is unique: too many to mention,” he says, emphasizing the diversity and quality of the talent that the festival attracts. This year’s acts include:
- Bashful Youngens
- Aubrie Powell
- Big Daddy Pride
- Brad Handsome
- Husky Martinez
- The Joy Machine
- Matt Talbott
- Turner Rives, Banjo Songster
The festival also offers practical amenities to enhance the attendee experience. Slow Spark BBQ provides food options, and festival-goers are encouraged to bring their grills, camping chairs, tents, and hammocks. Olson strongly recommends camping overnight to fully immerse oneself in the festival experience. “It’s really nice. There’s a lot of room to spread out,” he says. “When people leave at 11 o’clock, they don’t get the bonfire experience.”
As for the future, Olson and his team have their sights set on continuous improvement and expansion. “It feels like it’s gotten bigger and better each year,” he observes. They are open to introducing new elements and are always on the lookout for fresh talent to feature. “I always like to have my horizons expanded. So please do [suggest new acts],” Olson invites, signaling that the festival is a living, evolving entity that thrives on community input. Olson said that he welcomes artist suggestions via his Instagram DMs.
Hogchute Harvest Festival is more than just a day of music; it’s a celebration of community, art, and sustainability. It’s a space where everyone — from the musicians on stage to the volunteers behind the scenes to the attendees in the crowd — contributes to an atmosphere that is both unique and intimate. Whether you’re a die-hard music fan or simply someone looking to enjoy a day of good vibes and great company, the Hogchute Harvest Festival offers something for everyone. It’s a testament to the power of community and the enduring appeal of live, local music. And in a world where large, commercial festivals often dominate the headlines, Hogchute Harvest stands as a refreshing alternative that puts the focus squarely where it belongs: on the music and the people who make it possible.
Kalyx Center for Sustainability
Sa, October 7th, 3 p.m
$20 at the gate