Small-town events in Driftless Wisconsin

July 1, 2016 by Eric Frydenlund

Small-town events are the life blood of our communities. You won’t find big-town parade floats fashioned from roses or 30-foot high balloons shaped like Mickey Mouse. You will find small-town excitement, built from a community pride that draws folks to Main Street from miles around.

Eastman parade 4Small-town events begin with a few volunteers and end with a community-wide party. You can see the excitement in the faces.  The little girl in pigtails, mouth agape, watching the fire engine pass with sirens howling. The three-year-old farmer, hands on hips, inspecting a procession of John Deere tractors. The County Dairy Queen smiling and waving – not the mechanical elbow to wrist wave, but the both-arms flapping wave to someone in the crowd she actually recognizes.

Once the parade finds the end of Main Street, then comes more fun, food and fireworks.  And maybe a local baseball tournament or horseshoe contest. The cook flips the burgers with a spatula in one hand and a beer in the other.  And the thank you from the volunteer who hands you your burger and beer is genuine because it’s their club’s annual fundraiser.

And did I mention music?  The musicians span from the local high school bands marching the parades, tubas blaring and snare drums rattling; to professional bands rocking the stage of local music festivals.

There are several communities that celebrate the 4th of July with parades and fireworks with all sorts of activities in between. Eastman holds the quintessential farm-town 4th of July, with parade, ball games, food, and fireworks; while the La Farge 4th of July hosts a parade, ball tournament, bake sale, beer tent, and yes, spectacular fireworks.

Community gatherings are not confined to the 4th of July.  Several communities host farmers markets, typically on Saturdays, an easy way to celebrate food from farm to table. Coon Valley will host the Coon Creek Trout Fest on July 23, offering up a kid’s trout derby, a bobber race, classic car show, fly tying and fishing lessons, food, beverages, and music at night.

The calendar is full with summer music festivals. The Stump Dodger Bash in Gays Mills kicks things off on July 1st and 2nd, a country music happening featuring headliners Erica Nicole on Friday and Logan Mize on Saturday.  The 14th Annual Bluegrass Gospel Music Festival takes the stage in Viroqua on July 8 – 10, an opportunity to enjoy family entertainment, great music, and fellowship with six traditional bluegrass and gospel bands.

Viroqua also hosts the Driftless Music Festival on July 9, a free event offering five bands from 1 – 10pm, closing with Christie Knapp, who’s been “accused of singing in the style of Rosemary Clooney.” The Prairie Dog Blues Festival transforms St. Feriole Island in Prairie du Chien into a mecca for blues lovers, offering blues and roots music ranging “from Chicago Blues to West Coast Jump, hard-driving Mississippi Hill Country Blues, New Orleans horns and Texas Boogie.”

August begins with the annual Country on the River Music Fest in Prairie du Chien on August 4 – 6, featuring notable headliners such as Kid Rock. And don’t forget the County Fairs, Crawford County on August 24 – 28 and Vernon County on September 14 – 18, which offer a little bit of everything.

Small towns know how to celebrate in a big way. They’d be more than pleased if you joined them.