Cabin Concerts are a folk music trip back to community-centered nostalgia

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Gary Siegwarth (top right) and Brian Gibbs (bottom right) pose with Them Coulee Boys at the Cabin Concerts venue in rural Elkader.

The Cabin Concerts stage has been home to numerous folk and bluegrass artists since the concert series started in 2020.

By Willis Patenaude, Times-Register


Nestled in the serenity of the Elkader countryside—along the Turkey River and down a back country road where getting lost is part of the charm—is a homemade shack-like structure that doubles as a stage for bluegrass and folk music acts throughout the summer months. It’s where Gary Siegwarth and Brian Gibbs host what they’ve labeled Cabin Concerts, but the longtime friends didn’t start out hosting mini-folk music festivals in Siegwarth’s backyard.


The history of Cabin Concerts is not unlike a winding road through the local hillsides, and actually doesn’t even start at the cabin. The duo’s first foray into bringing music to Elkader was in 2015, when they, along with the Clayton County Conservation Awareness Network, started Music and Monarchs at Founders Park. 


While the venture was about sharing music and bringing people together, because, according to Gibbs, music is the perfect conduit to achieve that goal, there was also a conservation element surrounding the monarch butterfly. The population was crashing at the time and is still in a state of decline, down almost 90 percent since 1990, according to the National Wildlife Federation. 


So, as much as the event was about music, it also served as a venue to educate and inform people about a critical conservation effort. 


“People were able to walk away with free milkweed and other native pollinator plants. They also got educational materials…and saw demonstrations,” Gibbs explained.


Siegwarth noted that, in between bands, local conservationists would go on stage and provide a brief lesson on the importance of monarchs as pollinators, which “provides an invaluable service, essential for many ecosystems to thrive,” according to The Nature Conservancy. 


Eventually, this turned into a successful summer concert festival, which lasted for five more years until the Covid-19 pandemic, among other logistical elements, brought it to an end.  


But this didn’t end the both Siegwarth’s and Gibbs’ desire to give something back to the community in the way of music—to provide a communal atmosphere that promotes a collectivity not often found in day-to-day tasks and responsibilities. This sense of rural community that is fostered by these concerts also underscores why they have remained in Elkader, even after traveling all around the state. 


The two commented on the uniqueness of the people, which Siegwarth claims is not found in other parts of the state. Gibbs noted how the combination of the topography, the intimate nature of the rural setting, the togetherness of the people and the variety of outdoor activities is hard to find elsewhere. It’s a place that gathers people together, and gathering people together is the emphasis on the Cabin Concert series, which began in summer 2020. 


In a way, the end of Music and Monarchs and the beginnings of Cabin Concerts was “serendipitous,” Gibbs said. With the monarch festival taking a pause, the two turned their attention to another venue where music could safely be held during the pandemic. That location happened to be in Siegwarth’s backyard, under the canopy of trees, along the river and surrounded by nature. 


The Cabin Concerts started slowly, on a small scale, with a one-off concert focused on an acoustic set as a way to get back to the basics. The concert stage was lit up by lights powered almost exclusively by solar power, which keeps with the conservation theme that pervades everything Siegwarth and Gibbs do. 


But so does keeping things small and intimate, which is why Cabin Concerts relies heavily on word of mouth. With around 50 to 100 people making their way to the rustic venue, it remains friendly, intimate, sustainable and, arguably, in balance with nature, where “all species can co-mingle.” 


One of the reasons this series has been so successful, despite being launched during the pandemic, was the availability of musical talent, who were “starved” for gigs. The uniqueness of the venue also lends itself to the folk music artists the concerts wanted to attract, with some even reaching out after learning about the venue from other musicians. Bands who have played often request to return for what’s been called a “holistic experience.” 


Outside the Cabin Concerts, the tandem is responsible for various other musical events, most notably bringing artists to Deb’s Brewtopia in Elkader, something they started in 2016 when the band Dead Horses, whom they knew, came to town. More recently, Siegwarth and Gibbs brought Flash in a Pan, Splashdash Duo and Marques Morel Music. 


They’ve also sponsored concerts at the Elkader and Volga opera houses, most recently with The Last Revel performing in Volga. In 2022, the two hosted Bees, Brews and Banjos, returning attention to the issue of declining “pollinators friends.”


Aside from simply bringing in music, the pair was behind Elkader’s first ever Winter Festival, which was held Jan. 28, at the Elkader Golf and Country Club. Despite a snowstorm during the evening, the event was  well attended, as families partook in sledding, snowshoeing, a nighttime luminary walk and, of course, listened to live music by Drew Peterson and River Valley Rangers. 


Siegwarth and Gibbs are additionally known for partnering with local businesses, like ThINK, who do all their promotional materials. Michelle Gifford often puts the bands up in her Airbnb, and they work with Fassbinder Apiaries out of Elgin. 


The reason Siegwarth and Gibbs do all these things is not for the dollars and cents, it’s about bringing community together, something Siegwarth believes you cannot put a value on. It’s one of the reasons for turning the Cabin Concerts into weekend adventures where people can camp in tents and enjoy a festival atmosphere. 


“There’s something about…the moment when it’s happening…it’s a very energizing feeling, seeing everybody out. What a great time people are having…it’s a free space for them and their kids and that’s a good feeling. It’s one of those things, those intangible things you can’t put a dollar amount on,” Siegwarth said. 


As for Gibbs, it’s about having a “love of music, love of people and love of place.” 


This year, the Cabin Concert series is set to have around six official concert dates. It will kick off May 20, at an event featuring a plant giveaway, morning yoga and planned flotilla accompanied by acoustic music performed in a rowboat. Of course, it will also include live music during the early evening featuring Them Coulee Boys along with Buffalo Galaxy, Slapdash Bluegrass Band and Tavern String Band. 


Learn more at or the group’s Facebook page, Turkey River Cabin Concerts. All are welcome, with the only requirements being “keep it clean, leave no trace and come as you are.”

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