OGDEN — Every summer for the past 16 years, Reba Nissen has been traveling 500 miles east to Lyons, Colorado, for the annual Rocky Mountain Folks Festival. That festival, which has become a cherished tradition for her, always felt like a tight-knit community.
So in 2009, when Nissen attended her first Ogden Music Festival in the picturesque Fort Buenaventura in west Ogden, she recognized the fledgling music fest was something special. Nissen immediately sought out Ogden Friends of Acoustic Music executive director Michelle Tanner, who spearheads the annual festival, to volunteer her services.
“I’ve been like a junkyard dog ever since,” Nissen laughs. “I won’t let Michelle alone.”
Today, Nissen is co-director of OFOAM, helping to recreate in Ogden the community feel of festivals like the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
“When I saw what Michelle was doing here, I thought, ‘I can create this same thing I’ve been driving to Colorado for right here in my own community, and give this experience to my town,’” Nissen said.
The 12th annual Ogden Music Festival hits town this weekend, May 31-June 2, at Fort Buenaventura, 2450 A Ave. Entertainment begins at 6 p.m. Friday and continues Saturday and Sunday starting at noon. In between sets will be workshops, kids activities, food and beverages for sale, impromptu jam sessions, camping and more.
The headliner on Friday night will be gospel/R&B icon Mavis Staples. Nissen says Staples had four concert dates this month — New York City, for her 80th birthday celebration at the Apollo Theater; Nashville, Tennessee; Los Angeles; and little old Ogden, Utah.
“It’s like that ‘New York-Paris-London-Moab’ thing,” Nissen said.
Saturday night’s headliner will be The Infamous Stringdusters, who last year took home a Grammy Award for Best Bluegrass Album; while Sunday’s closer will be Chris Jones & The Night Drivers, led by bluegrass singer/guitarist/songwriter/broadcaster/author Jones.
In between, the Shook Twins, The Band of Heathens, Cane Mill Road, Pixie & The Partygrass Boys, Jubilee, Della Mae, Wood Belly, and Mama LongLegs will entertain an expected 3,500 festival attendees throughout the weekend.
Nissen said the festival will offer “some cool workshops” on such topics as banjo, flatpicking guitar, and mandolin, and for the kids there will be an instrument petting zoo and the Utah Drum Bus. Mariachi Zavala, a local mariachi band, will lead a kids parade over the weekend, as well as perform the national anthem on Saturday.
In addition to the Ogden Music Festival, the Utah State Instrument Championships — with contests for novice and open categories — will be held from 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.
And, of course, there’s the impromptu jam sessions mornings and late nights in the campground.
“For those people who like to jam, we do have a lot of jamming in the campgrounds after the concerts on the Main Stage,” Nissen said. “And we did coordinate with some of the bands, so there are scheduled times that people can jam with their favorite bands.”
The festival will also host a free Monday night show at the Ogden Amphitheater, 343 Historic 25th St. This year’s concert will feature Chris Jones and The Night Drivers, joined by students from Taylor Elementary School.
“So there’s a lot of cool stuff happening,” Nissen said.
In the last few years, the Ogden Music Festival has averaged an audience between 3,000 and 3,500 over the weekend — organizers believe the venue could hold 4,000 and still be manageable.
“So we haven’t quite maxed out yet,” Nissen said. “It’s a nice-sized festival. That’s one of the things that contributes to people saying they like the vibe. It’s big enough to have a sense of community, but not so much to be overwhelmed by it.”
Admission to the festival is $40 per day in advance; $50 at the gate. (Gate price is $45 on Sunday.) A three-day pass is $80 in advance, $90 at the gate.
“And kids 16 and under are free,” Nissen said. “We really want kids there.”
After 10 years of working with Tanner and OFOAM to help produce the Ogden Music Festival, Nissen says the event is becoming a tradition for many in the community, similar to the devoted following she’s watched develop at the Rocky Mountain Folks Festival.
“That’s the reason I’m still as passionate about the Ogden Music Festival today,” Nissen said. “I’ve watched people do the same thing here that they do there. They’ve made it a family tradition. We’ve had kids who got into playing music here, and now they’re at the Berklee school of music, or they’re playing in bands.”
Nissen invites music lovers to check out this year’s festival.
“Bring a low-profile chair, and sit and listen,” she said. “Or, get up and dance — there’s a dancing area.
“And,” she adds, “there’s hula-hooping!”