As colorful carnival rides and food vendor booths set up on Main Street in Mitchell in preparation for an influx of visitors to the 2021 Corn Palace Festival, Doug Greenway is in the Corn Palace box office, answering phones and coordinating the many moving parts of the annual event.
As Corn Palace director, he is in charge of organizing the festival, booking the entertainment acts and generally coordinating amongst workers and festival participants. It’s a lot of work, but Greenway said he is energized by the return to a more normal Corn Palace Festival after the 2020 event was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is the first year I’ve done indoor concerts,” Greenway told the Mitchell Republic recently. “We had outdoor shows (last year). But we feel much more comfortable this year. We’re very aware of COVID-19 and ask people to not come if they are sick. We hope for the best and hope they use good judgement and not attend if they’re not feeling well.”
But overall, the Corn Palace Festival is ready to return to indoor and outdoor shows, with several acts taking the main stage inside the Corn Palace and a number of other acts taking up residence on the stage at the Corn Palace Plaza.
Bookings for this year’s festival encountered a hitch when one of the headliners, Johnny Rivers, pulled out of the festival earlier this year. The group cited Rivers’ age at 78 and concerns about COVID-19 and the stresses of travel and announced their retirement.
The festival tries to book a variety of acts that include both rock and country music, and with Rivers out, Greenway needed another group to fill the rock music void.
“That put us in a little bit of a bind, so we looked for a good rock replacement, and there weren’t a lot of bands available given the short time frame and the fact that we’re in the middle of concert and festival season,” Greenway said.
The lineup he secured should fit the bill, he said. Groups that are expected to take the main stage in the Corn Palace include BlackHawk, Whiskey Myers, Williams and Ree, The Something New Band, Weston Frank and The Powell Brothers.
Whiskey Myers is one band that will take the stage Friday evening in their first appearance at the Corn Palace.
“Whiskey Myers have never been to the Corn Palace. I think of them as the new version of Lynyrd Skynyrd, that edgy, southern rock. And of course Weston Frank will open for them. They are high-energy and more of a rock show than a country act,” Greenway said.
BlackHawk will be on stage Saturday night with opening act The Powell Brothers.
“BlackHawk is Saturday, and we’re opening them with the Powell Brothers, who are out of Texas and play a lot of contemporary country but have their own stuff, too,” Greenway said. “They have a great sound and should be a nice opener for BlackHawk.”
There will also be a variety of free performances at the outdoor stage of the Corn Palace Plaza, the schedule for which can be found at the Corn Palace Festival website.
Ticket sales have been good, Greenway said, but there are still some left for the indoor concerts. Those interested can call the Corn Palace box office for more information. He noted that students from Dakota Wesleyan University and Mitchell Technical College can receive a discount with their student identification.
Those who do are sure to find something they will enjoy at the 2021 Corn Palace Festival.
“Tickets are available up to the show at the box office for walk-ins, and we can pop out those general admission tickets easily,” Greenway said.
Some of the acts performing at the festival include:
Williams and Ree
Thursday evening will see Williams and Ree take to the stage at the Corn Palace.
The pair are well-known in South Dakota, having performed throughout the state on numerous occasions. They bring a combination comedy and music act to the stage and are known for eschewing politically correct leanings in favor of a more classic approach.
The group has played the Corn Palace in the past, and according to one half of the team, it remains a favorite stopping point for them in South Dakota.
“It’s right up there to being our favorite venue,” Bruce Williams, who along with Terry Ree make up the group, told the Mitchell Republic in a recent interview. “I’d say we’ve played it close to a dozen times.”
Williams and Ree frame their comedy around music, and their success has earned them spots on stage and television. Some of their work includes appearances on Country Kitchen, HeeHaw and Laff TV. Crowds at the Corn Palace Festival can expect to see that brand of entertainment when the lights go up Thursday evening.
After decades of honing their act together, Williams said the show is smooth and a lot of fun.
“We’re a music and comedy duo that have been practicing our art for 53 years now. I think we have a pretty good handle on it,” Williams said.
The act has become a classic over the years, and Williams said they have put a lot of work and effort into entertaining their audiences. He said that one thing that hasn’t - and won’t - change about the two is that they plan to continue to bring good-natured non-politically correct humor to the show, something they have tried to maintain despite changing times and attitudes.
The act has been known for years as “The Indian and The White Guy,” a moniker some suggest is outdated. Williams and Ree, however, don’t see it that way.
“We’re a music and comedy duo that have been practicing our art for 53 years now. I think we have a pretty good handle on it.”
— Bruce Williams, member of Williams and Ree
“The only thing we run into nowadays is cancel culture - saying we can’t call ourselves the Indian and the White Guy. I guess now we’re going to have to call ourselves the Guardian and the White Guy,” Williams said, referencing the recent decision by the Cleveland Major League Baseball team to change its name from the Indians to the Guardians.
Williams said they are looking forward to sharing the stage with both the established and new up and coming bands that will be performing at the Corn Palace Festival. Even with five decades of performing under their belts, there is always something to learn and be inspired by when playing multi-day festivals like this.
“I’ve always looked forward to working with others. There really is a feeling of celebration every time we work (at the Corn Palace), and we’re always glad to share the stage with the artists coming out,” Williams said. “We’re old school country guys and these are all the new young guns and it’s really helping us to stay current and be a part of it and part of the new moment.”
With several evenings of music from a variety of genres planned for the Corn Palace Festival, Williams encouraged people to come on down to the Corn Palace for a round of music and laughs Thursday night. Everyone should find something to laugh about, he said.
“A good time will be had by all. No one will leave that venue unscathed,” Williams laughed.
Williams and Ree are scheduled to perform at 7 p.m. Thursday, along with The Something New Band.
The Something New Band
The Something New Band bills itself a musical and entertainment ensemble that appeals to a diverse age group - from young adults to senior citizens. The group prides itself on being well-equipped to work both large indoor or outdoor events, but also is at home in smaller, more intimate venues.
The group is known for performing a variety of classic rock songs, including medleys by the Beach Boys, Roy Orbison and Van Morrison, among others.
They are also scheduled to be on the indoor stage at 7 p.m. Thursday.
Weston Frank will open the show Friday night ahead of Whiskey Myers.
Frank, a country musician who was once kicked out of his own cover band, has become a staple of South Dakota country music since 2011, performing at many in-state events like Hobo Days, the South Dakota State Fair and a variety of rodeos.
He will take the stage ahead of Whiskey Myers at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Whiskey Myers hails from Texas and plays a rock style with a southern edge. They have released six albums over the span of their career, with the first coming out in 2007 and the latest in 2019.
Southern rock may be what they’re known for, but they are not limited to it.
“Everybody wants you to pick a genre, but we did this our whole career,” said band member Cody Cannon in the band’s bio. “We like it all, so we’re gonna do it all. We’re better than we were at 20 years old - you try to hone your skills and get better, write better, play better. This is just how it came naturally, and it works better that way.”
The band will take the stage following Weston Frank.
The Powell Brothers
The Powell Brothers, also hailing from Texas, perform a combination of country and rock music.
The band is composed of a power trio and fronted by brothers Taylor Powell and Blake Powell. The band performs a unique blend of genres that include thoughtful lyrics and musicianship. The band has garnered a vast and diverse following after releasing eight singles, three EPs and one full-length album.
They will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday evening as the opening act for BlackHawk.
Formed in 1992, BlackHawk continues to perform around the country, bringing their brand of country music to the masses.
The band has sold over 7 million albums and scored a number of country radio hits in the 1990s. They still draw tens of thousands of fans to live performances.
They will headline the indoor stage Saturday night after opener The Powell Brothers at 7:30 p.m.