On a Saturday afternoon in August 2010, a group of trailblazing musicians plucked the first Milaca RecFest notes on Rec Park’s band shell stage.
From that point, the bluegrass festival grew from no camping and three band performances in its first year to hosting 11 bands, 20 hours of music, and more than 100 campers in its 10th year. The festival rolls into Milaca for a four-day run July 25-28. The idea for a festival was born when Milaca Mayor Pete Pedersen attended a bluegrass concert held by This Side of Heaven at the Milaca Alliance Church.
That event inspired Milaca’s long-serving mayor to bring some down-home music to the band shell to attract visitors into his one-stoplight town.
In 2012, upon receiving a grant from East Central Regional Arts Center, the RecFest committee was able to bring in more bands.
Improvements to the band shell and park over the years has created a more attractive venue.
RecFest became what it is today with help from volunteers, local business sponsors, and Milaca’s Public Works Department. The event is sponsored by Milaca’s Park Commission,
“One of my biggest goals as mayor is to get people off the road and come into Milaca to see what a good town we have,” Pedersen said.
Although Pedersen has seen the festival grow, he doesn’t plan for it to get much bigger. For the annual RecFest visitors, it’s more than the talent on Rec Park’s band shell stage that brings them back.
It’s the community of “jammers” found in the small town of Milaca every July.
Each year, Pedersen walks from camper to camper greeting people from Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and as far as Mesa, Arizona.
John Ek and his wife from Hermantown in northern Minnesota only missed the first year of RecFest.
“I like the fellowship of bluegrass music,” said Ek, who used to play the mandolin and guitar in a bluegrass band.
Ek and his wife often bike through Milaca and are amazed by the “clean town and friendly people” and enjoy seeing the unique fire hydrants.
The campers look forward to seeing their friends every year from all over Minnesota and surrounding states.
Dean and Tamara Halonen, of Brooklyn Park, prefer smaller festivals because of their tight-knit atmosphere. They have attended RecFest for seven years.
When first hearing bluegrass, Dean thought “What the heck is this?” and soon became a fan of the “clean, upbeat music.”
That music originates from the legendary Bill Monroe and his Bluegrass Boys from Kentucky.
Bluegrass is described as a type of American country music with roots in the English, Irish and Scottish traditional music, and a blues presence.
The bluegrass sound consists of acoustic stringed instruments, such as the fiddle, banjo, acoustic guitar, mandolin, and upright bass.
The Halonens wanted to learn to play that type of music, so they took guitar and harmonica lessons.
They eventually realized jamming wasn’t for them, so they decided to be what bluegrass fans call listeners. Tamara enjoys the citywide garage sale that falls over the same weekend as RecFest.
Roger Hurda and his wife will be attending their seventh RecFest. “We enjoy music, friends, and the area,” Hurda, of Wisconsin, said. He jams with his washtub bass, an instrument made from a washtub and a board sitting on top with a single string.
Not only are the people and music memorable, but the weather has kept the RecFest visitors reaching for their umbrella, sunscreen, or a jacket.
“We’ve had every type of weather,” Pedersen said. “We’ve had hot and we’ve had people go up to Unclaimed Freight to get winter coats in July.”
Pedersen remembers a man from Washington who took in a family of tent-dwellers into his camper during a down-pour over the festival weekend. The family returned the next year to play on the stage as The Ostrom Family Band.
Halonen remembers the flooded Rec Park in 2016 after what was described as a “once-every-hundred-years-type storm” and an overflowing Rum River.
The following week, the festival ran as scheduled with only a few puddles to be seen.
“We were flabbergasted,” Halonen said. “It showed how much the town puts into the festival.”
Festivities and fees
The RecFest committee made special plans for the 10th anniversary including a lineup of one band from each year and a Brookview Winery wine tasting.
Shaffer’s Lost 40, Singleton Street, and the High 48s will be among the 11 bands strumming banjos and playing fiddles at this year’s festival.
The 2019 RecFest schedule is packed with band performances, jam sessions under the tents, food and beverage vendors, and more.
Overnight on-site camping is available for the weekend. Primitive sites are located along the banks of the Rum River with access to over 14 miles of hiking and biking trails and scenic woodlands.
Sites are within walking distance from the band shell. Campfires are allowed in approved fire rings and designated areas. Showers will be available on-site.
RecFest 2019 weekend camping rates are $30 for a recreational vehicle, with a $10 per add-on tent to any site, and $20 for tents only.
For reservations call Pete at 320-237-2657 or email email@example.com.
RecFest gate admission for 2019 features a $30 weekend pass for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday and a $20 admission fee for Friday and Saturday.
Gate admission is $10 on Sunday. Youth ages 13 to 18 get event access for $10, and kids 12 and under are free with an adult admission.
The Milaca citywide garage sale will also be on the same weekend as RecFest. To learn more, visit www.milacarecfest.com.
Emma Eidsvoog is the Union-Times summer news reporting intern.