PHOTO STORY: Bluegrass Festival begins again in Niles

NILES – The sounds of guitar strings picking drew an audience at the amphitheater at Riverfront Park Thursday afternoon.

Beginning at 4 p.m. with the Riverfront Optimist Club of Niles Bluegrass Festival’s first act, The Water Street Wranglers, people of all ages brought folding chairs, blankets or chose to sit in the grass in front of the stage.

As the music began, children played in the grass, people conversed quietly and the smell of fair food wafted from the parking lot where craft and food vendors were ready to greet attendees who wandered through.

The festival, which will go through Sunday evening, has 13 bands booked, with an open mic scheduled on Sunday at noon, before the final band of the festival, local high school band sensation The Toona’s takes the stage. On Thursday evening, music was booked from 4 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. On Friday, music will begin at 4 p.m. and end at 11 p.m. On Saturday, music begins at noon and ends at 11 p.m.

Riverfront Optimist Club of Niles President Josh Sitarz was thrilled to have music coming from the amphitheater Thursday evening, after organizing the majority of the festival within 30 days of approval by the council.

He recalled the days leading up to the music beginning in the park, coming down to help clean up the park and get ready to move tents and vendors into the space. Once the music started, he finished putting up vendor banners and was excited the heaviest lifting was over for the day.

He also credited Tom Majerek, who ran the Niles Bluegrass Festival for years, and his parents, TJ Martin and Cathy Sitarz, for getting the festival organized with him this year.

“I’m excited. Now I can listen to music and relax,” Sitarz said. “I hope a lot of people come out.”

From the road of having the city council reject the club’s application for the event in 2020, to working with members of the city to make it possible this year, Sitarz said there had been a lot of work and learning behind the scenes.

“There’s a lot of stress off my back that we can finally do this,” Sitarz said. “I’m looking forward to seeing people come out and hopefully kids dancing to the music. I don’t want to say COVID is over, but this [feels] like a celebration of feeling back to normal.”

The Riverfront Optimist Club of Niles is already planning its second event of the summer, resurrecting Niles Riverfest Aug. 5 through 8. Niles Riverfest will feature live music, food, vendors and carnival rides.

Music will continue on Saturday and Sunday, with the Niles Bluegrass Festival ending a few hours before the Niles Music and More Summer Concert Series hosts Daryl Buchanan at the Riverfront Park Amphitheater 6 p.m. on Sunday.


The remaining music scheduled includes:

Friday, July 9

4 p.m. – J&J Express
5 p.m. – Blue Water Ramblers

6 p.m. – Whistle Stop Revue

6:50 p.m. – J&J Express

7:40 p.m. – Blue Water Ramblers

8:30 p.m. – Whistle Stop Revue

9:15 p.m. – Stealin’ The Farm


Saturday, July 10

Noon – St. Joe Jack

2 p.m. – Jessie’s Gurl

3 p.m. – Deadwood

4 p.m. – Jessie’s Gurl

5 p.m. – Deadwood

6 p.m. – Full Cord Band

7 p.m. – Whistle Stop Revue

8 p.m. – Full Cord Band

9 p.m. – Whistle Stop Revue


Sunday, July 11

Noon – Open Mic

2 p.m. – The Toona’s

The Festival stage closes at 4 p.m.

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