Val Haller started setting the stage for the Winnetka Music Festival by creating a list of qualities about other festivals — qualities that she hated.
Since 2017, Haller — who is the CEO/founder of Valslist Music, the company behind the now-popular North Shore concert — has orchestrated the successful weekend festivals in downtown Winnetka.
But after the COVID-19 pandemic silenced the 2020 iteration of the festival, the Winnetka resident and her team pondered how, and if, it could return.
Despite the uncertainty posed by the pandemic, Haller and the Valslist team were determined to carry on.
The show will go on this year — but with a different format that includes a change in name, duration and location.
Emerge Winnetka, a concert that Haller said will feature the same “great quality of music,” is set for Saturday, Sept. 11, at the Skokie Playfields.
The event will start at 2 p.m. and feature five headlining acts from a variety of genres.
“Everything is going to feel the same,” Haller told The Record. “The same quality, the same leadership and the same caliber of bands. And all of that is in just a smaller version this year; so we felt it needed its own name, so we’re calling it Emerge Winnetka.”
Emerge Winnetka lineup
2:30-3:30 p.m. — Brothers on a Mission
3:15-4 p.m. — The Vindys
4:30-5:15 p.m. — Argonaut & Wasp
5:45-6:30 p.m. — Walker County
6:45 p.m. Moment of remembrance for Sept. 11
7-8:15 p.m. — Allen Stone
8:45-10 p.m. — Spence Ludwig
10-10:45 p.m. (aftershow) — DJ Swuaropolis
The inspiration for the festival’s new name is rooted in the multiple interpretations of the word “emerge.” Haller said it represents the community emerging from the pandemic and highlights the festival’s speciality in “emerging artists who are ready to take off.”
The festival previously took place in June over Father’s Day weekend, but Haller said that date “felt too soon” in 2021. So organizers pushed it to mid-September.
When Emerge Winnetka organizers decided to move forward with this year’s event, village property was not an option, as the Village of Winnetka was not authorizing use of the downtown area for large-capacity events with concerns related to COVID-19.
The Skokie Playfields offered the “perfect solution” for a new location because “it’s a gorgeous, renovated, outdoor space with the infrastructure already in place,” Haller said, adding the organizers placed an importance on finding a venue where crowds could be safely distanced.
“We wanted to make it a celebration of community; that we’re all stepping out together, but it was paramount that we do it safely, so we also moved the location,” Haller said.
Safety amid a global pandemic is a top priority for the show, Haller said.
Attendees Age 12 and over will be required to present either proof of full COVID-19 vaccination or a proof of a negative result from a COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of the event.
Haller said that organizers are following CDC guidance to ensure they provide an experience where people “feel comfortable and safe.”
The festival’s lineup features several returning fan-favorite acts that headlined previous years, including Spencer Ludwig, Walker County, Brothers on a Mission and the Vindys.
Newcomers Allen Stone, Argonaut & Wasp and DJ Squaroplis join this year’s lineup.
“My main goal is to bring a vast variety of genres to my audience,” Haller said. “I want it to be one of every genre.”
As of publication time, tickets are still available on the festival’s website. Haller said organizers hope that day-of, walk-up tickets will be available, but that is not guaranteed.
Haller added that the website is the best place to purchase tickets, which are available for $50 for adults, $25 for ages 13-20 and $5 for under 13. She also encouraged attendees to read the FAQ page to find out what can and cannot be brought in.
As the festival inches near, Haller could not be more thrilled.
“I am beyond excited to just have live music happening again anywhere,” she said. “ … Nothing pleases me more than to bring our community back together around live music. That, to me, is a home run. Bringing people together around live music is what I do.”
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Martin Carlino is a co-founder and the senior editor who assigns and edits The Record stories, while also bylining articles every week. Martin is an experienced and award-winning education reporter who was the editor of The Northbrook Tower.