Winnetka Music Festival attracts massive crowds with help of Valslist, Evanston SPACE


Kara Peeler/Daily Senior Staffer

Rock artist Alejandro Escovedo performed on the Lincoln Stage Saturday.

Kara Peeler, Senior Staffer

The seventh annual Winnetka Music Festival sold out Friday and Saturday, with a daily crowd capacity of 6,000. With festival grounds in a blocked-off downtown Winnetka, the two-day event featured two main stages, a family stage and an indoor stage at the Winnetka Chapel. 

Main Stage headliners included The Wallflowers, The Dip and Hailey Whitters on Friday, along with Michael Franti & Spearhead, Neal Francis and Madison Cunningham on Saturday. Thirty acts — established and emerging — took the four stages starting at 5 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. Saturday, spanning a multitude of genres from R&B to rock, indie, pop, soul and more.

“Our goal in launching this seven years ago was to bring a downtown quality festival up to the suburbs,” said Valslist owner and founder Val Haller, who produced the festival. “My goal is to bring a little bit of everything and give people a taste of something that maybe they don’t even know they like.” 

This year marks the first festival co-produced with Evanston SPACE. SPACE leads booking and Haller curates the festival. SPACE’s development team is also behind Out of Space concerts in Evanston and Thalia Hall and The Salt Shed in Chicago. 

Haller said the partnership is a “dream come true” for the festival, as SPACE and Valslist are both celebrating their 15th anniversaries this year. 

She also said Valslist raises money for charities, such as Guitars Over Guns, which aims to empower youth with music education and mentorship, and the All Stars Project, whose mission includes using performance to support children from poor and underserved communities. 

At the festival, some local restaurants remained open for business, along with food and drink trucks and stands galore. Some Evanston favorites, like Stacked & Folded and Soul & Smoke, were available. 

At Brittany’s Butters and Gourmet Bakery’s stand, owner and founder Don Reilly said he enjoyed the music. He was looking forward to rock band The Wallflowers’ performance, he said, as he helped sell sweet treats: “So far, so good.” 

The festival, which Haller said is meant to have a “pull factor” for both super fans and other attendees, attracts people from neighboring suburbs and across the country, according to her ticket analytics data. 

Festivalgoer Kay Laurie said she traveled from Glenview. She had never been to the festival before, but wanted to see what it was like and return to the town she lived in for two years as a child. 

“It’s wonderful what Winnetka’s done to bring these people together,” Laurie said. 

One of her favorite acts was the Lowdown Brass Band, she said, and she would definitely attend again next year. 

Haller said she has loved watching the festival grow since its inception. She brings her background as a columnist for The New York Times and with playlist creation as Valslist — which has gained the attention of Oprah — to the table. 

As her brand expanded, she began a House Concert Series, which then moved into the Winnetka Chapel, and eventually inspired the music festival. She said she’s excited for what the SPACE partnership will mean for the festival’s future. 

“Every year, (the festival has) gotten a little bigger, a little better,” Haller said. 

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Twitter: @karapeeler

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