When you come right down to it, the Hodag County Festival is about much more than the music on the main stage and that is why it has survived for so many years. The vast sea of campers, trailers and tents that surround the stage area is where those staying long-term at the festival spend their time.
Faced with telling the story of the Hodag on the afternoon of the last day, this reporter picked a campsite at random and talked to the residents about why they come back year after year.
The site I picked was part of a group of sites that have been in the Wausau area group since the first Hodag in 1978. Casi Teske tried to count the number of Hodags she has been to and settled with "over 20." She readily admitted she comes for more than just the music.
"Friends, memories, the group of people we come with," Teske said.
Her campsite buddy, Jennifer Kohel, put her Hodag total at 16 this year.
Rick Borchardt, however, is the grizzled veteran of the bunch. He was marking his 30th Hodag in the same campsite group.
"I think the first year we came, we were out in overflow, and I was with some other friends, actually," Borchardt said. "My mom and dad and their friends were the ones who had these sites for many, many years. They then started phasing out, leaving us..."
"The next generation took over," Teske finished.
"And the next generation took over, yeah," Borchardt agreed. "Because she's (Teske) my cousin, and her dad (Kohel) used to come. Now we've taken over (the campsites)."
Like most campers, they have chairs in the seating area where they sit during the acts. But with Sunday afternoon heading toward Sunday evening, Borchardt said the group headed back to their campsite to get ready to pack up and depart.
"We will probably leave right after the next show," he said. "We don't know, we kind of pick and choose which shows we'll go down for. I don't like going to these early shows because it's so stinking hot. I'm not one for the heat, that's why I'm sitting in the shade (of his trailer awning)."
He said Teske and Kohel go to more shows than he does.
"It's more of a vacation from everything for me to come up here," Borchardt said. "The entertainment I like, too. But we play cards and all that kind of stuff."
By 4:30 p.m., Borchardt's brother and another camper had pulled out, leaving a noticeable vacancy on the two singles and two doubles that make up their Hodag base.
Overall, the group said the weather for this year's Hodag was pretty good, other than the heat and humidity.
"It was decent weather," Teske said.
When asked what one thing would make their Hodag experience better, Borchardt was quick to respond.
"Electricity," he said.
"At least right here," Kohel said. "If they add in on one street, let it be The Judds."
The one thing they would power with electricity if they had it?
"Air conditioners," they said in unison.
The 2020 Hodag Country Festival will run from July 9-12, 2020.
Jamie Taylor may be reached via email at jamie@rivernews online.com.
The Northwoods River News | Walker Communications, LLC 232 S. Courtney Street, Rhinelander, WI 54501 | Office (715) 365-6397 | Fax (715) 365-6361
Corporate billing office: The Lakeland Times / Lakeland Printing Inc. | P.O. Box 790, Minocqua, WI 54548 | (715) 356-5236 | Fax (715) 358-2121 Members of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, Wisconsin Community Papers, Rhinelander Area Chamber of Commerce, Minocqua Area Chamber of Commerce