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Live Music Returns to Rhinelander with Hodag Country Fest

Hodag Country Festival

On a normally quiet stretch of River Road, streams of cars and campers pass brightly painted signs advertising local bars and bags of ice.

Farther down the road, the often-empty festival grounds are packed, RVs squeezed into every imaginable space.

Hodag Country Festival is back in town, and with it, droves of country music listeners and long lines of campers.

After a year without live music, Hodag Country Festival is not suffering a shortage of interest.

Instead, local businesses expect crowds this year to be bigger than ever.

“I’ve heard that this is going to be the biggest country fest that they’re anticipating people-wise,” says Crystal Weber, the assistant store leader at Kwik Trip on North Stevens St. “Because it was cancelled last year, they were allowed to transfer their 2020 tickets to 2021 on top of selling their 2021 tickets. So this is supposed to be one of the biggest country fests they’ve ever had, which is really exciting.”

Weber says the festival more than doubles the amount of business coming through the store.

“This is our golden moment through the year,” she says.

Meanwhile guests from out-of-town think crowds will grow since other Wisconsin music festivals, like Country USA, went bankrupt in 2020.

“We think people that would go there will come here,” says festival-goer Lois Cornette. “So we think it will be extra busy. But that’s okay, the more the merrier.”

It’s too soon to say if this will actually be a record setting year for turnout.

Dixie Nieuwenhuis, one of the owners and coordinators of the event, says even though she thinks attendance will be up, she still thinks it will be in line with past events.

But one thing is certain: a lot of people are excited to put the pandemic in the past and embrace the return of live music.

“People are so excited,” Nieuwenhuis says. “They’re looking forward to this and everyone being back together and having good times again and sitting around that campfire and socializing.”

As people carry chairs between camp sites, they’re ready for a weekend of exactly that.

The Hodag Country Festival started Thursday night and runs through Sunday.

The lineup of entertainment this year includes Darius Rucker, Brett Eldredge and Trace Adkins.

Erin Gottsacker worked at WXPR as a Morning Edition host and reporter from December 2020 to January 2023. During her time at the station, Erin reported on the issues that matter most in the Northwoods.
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