Squashfest: And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden

Jill Fisher

Eldri Snow and Mark Johnson at Squashfest 2021. Photo by Keely Zynda.

Recently a proliferation of music festivals around the world has come to my attention. It appears that getting past the COVID pandemic has spurred their development. Having lived in Woodstock, New York for 20 years, it brings to mind the famous 1969 Woodstock Music & Art Fair at Yasgur’s Farm. In 2023 there are hundreds of three-day music festivals in places like the UK, Norway, Spain, Australia and who knows where else.

Many focus on specific genres like our blues and reggae fests here in Duluth. The list is almost endless: country, classical, hip hop, pop, folk, electronic, punk, latin, jazz, soul, etc. This attests to the growing economic benefits of the music and arts scene.

Closer to home there are a slew of regional music festivals as well: Boats and Bluegrass in Winona, Blue Ox Festival in Eau Claire, Wis., Porcupine Mountains Music Festival in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Sister City Festival in Fargo, and the Minnesota Original Music Festival in St. Peter, to name just a few.

So is it any wonder that with the hot music scene in the Twin Ports that we have another upcoming festival that features many of our best local bands and musicians? If you have ever wondered what it would have been like to attend the Woodstock Festival in August of 1969 (you know, going out to the country, camping out to hear multiple bands during three days) maybe you should consider experiencing our mini local version of that iconic gathering: The Great Northern Squashfest 2023.

It takes place Friday and Saturday, Sept. 15 and 16, with an extra treat for early birds on Thursday, Sept. 14. This is the fourth year for the festival and preparations are well underway at the festival site out in the western Wisconsin hinterland; that is, in the unincorporated community of Chaffey in the Town of Summit. It’s only about 25 miles south of Superior, just off Wisconsin Trunk Highway 35 (a straight shot south along Superior’s Tower Avenue).

Although not far away, it has that out in the country feel that makes it a special event with a Woodstock feel. (Sorry, no “Hog Farm” will be in evidence.) The Squashfest site is located on the Staupe family property and is organized by Adam Staupe, who plays bass (both standup and electric) in several local bands and singer Eldri Snow. Of course they get a little help from their family and friends.

After touring the property recently I can appreciate what an undertaking this is. Lots goes into putting on a three-day festival: mowing vast fields to accommodate camping and parking, vendor stands, getting zoning permits, ordering porta potties, figuring out lighting, food service beyond lining up the acts. It must be a labor of love. (Note that Adam is waiting until the very last minute to mow his extensive milkweed meadow, to allow the resident Monarchs to hatch and complete their metamorphoses and migrate.)

Squashfest 2022. Photo by Keely Zynda.

This year there are a total of 31 acts  – 17 returning plus 14 new ones. (Compare this to the recent Bayfront Blues Fest that showcased 17 acts on a single stage in three days.) Many of our favorite local bands will be there, plus a few from farther away, like the ever-popular Driftless Revelers from Eau Claire and three that are new to me from the Twin Cities (Kind Country, Katey Bellville and Buffalo Galaxy).

Although the posters list just Friday and Saturday dates, with music starting at 11 am on Friday and 10 am Saturday, folks who purchase the multi-day passes will get to enjoy four bands on Thursday evening as well: Rich Mattson & the Northstars, the Jefferson Street String Band, the Red-Bearded Strangers and Marky, not to mention the traditional spaghetti squash meal.

Another couple of interesting tweaks this year: One involves that wild man Steve Solkela, who will serve as “Special MC.” Who knows what kind of craziness that will mean? Another is the musician Daryl Yankee who will be roaming around (probably with his Vibra-Slap in hand) as the “Artist At Large.” I wondered what that meant and was told by Daryl it means he can sit in with any of the bands he likes!

Musician Tim Leitgeb will be in charge of sound, which I have been assured will be great because of his expertise. Beyond the music, there will be artists and artisan booths, a kids’ play area and family activities.

Two food trucks will be on hand, one being The Pattison Lions Club truck, so no need to bring your own food along. If the weather turns chilly, attendees can huddle around campfires at designated sites. The festival wraps up with a breakfast on Sunday morning for the folks (mostly musicians likely) who remain overnight Saturday.

Purchase tickets and get the full lineup of musicians plus other important details at squashfest.org . All in all, this festival promises to be a fun and intimate event with up close contact with the performers. Indeed, Eldri has likened Squashfest to a family reunion, where nearly everyone knows each other and gets to have fun together for the duration. Sure wish I could be there! But hopefully there’ll be another Great Northern Squashfest in 2024 that I can attend. Have it good everyone! 

Upcoming: the Duluth Oktoberfestival will be at Bayfront Park on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, September 15, 16 and 17, overlapping two days of Squashfest. See DuluthOktoberFest.com for its live music lineup and event details. And perhaps the last of the outdoor summer music events will be the Breeze Inn’s October Fest on Saturday, Oct. 14 with two bands playing under the tent – Feeding Leroy and New Salty Dog.  

Squashfest 2022 with Rich Mattson and the Northstars. Photo by Aaron Reichow.