By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN As Winstock core committee members reminisced the last 16 years of Winstock, it gave just a glimpse into the behind-the-scenes efforts made to make it one of the top 10 country music festivals in the nation.
The camaraderie of the committee and the pride they share in the music festival was extremely apparent as they did a recounting of the journey that began in 1993.
That was when Dick Langenfeld and Tom Ollig, two of the original Winstock Committee members, decided after a Holy Trinity School budget meeting, that a country music festival might be able to bring in additional funds to help support the Catholic school.
It wasn’t easy trying to recruit a committee to get the fundraiser going.
“The committee was not chosen, we begged for committee members,” Winstock committee member Tom Ollig said.
“The only advertising we did was newspaper and a radio station in Hutchinson. We didn’t use the radio station in the city at all,” Ollig said.
“None would take us,” Winstock committee member Steve Laxen said.
The first Winstock Country Music Festival was June 24 and 25, 1994, at the Winsted Airport. It drew a crowd of 1,200 people, and there were 97 campsites.
Ollig, chairman of the first Winstock committee, said in a Winsted-Lester Prairie Journal interview in June 1994, that “starting a music festival was a lot more work than the committee had imagined.”
Ollig outlined things like permitting and licensing required by the Winsted Airport Commission, the City of Winsted, and McLeod County before the event could even take place.
Another surprise for the first-time committee was when it found out it was expected to provide food, lodging, and transportation to and from the airport for some of the major entertainers.
Of the first-year performers, Waylon Jennings had an entourage of 16 to 20 people the committee needed to provide accommodations for, and Crystal Gayle had 15 people.
This is just one of the roadblocks the committee has encountered through the years, but it always manages to work things out. In fact, many times, the committee has turned a roadblock around, making it an asset.
For example, entertainers now seem to welcome the chance to perform at Winstock because of the hospitality provided by the committee.
“According to our booking agent, Gary Marx, we are getting to be quite well-known down in Nashville,” Winstock committee member Judy Langenfeld said, “because of the way we treat the entertainers when they are up here, which is making his job easier.”
Some of the entertainers who have returned have told the committee that they cannot wait for the homemade soup or homemade pickles provided by the caterers.
The first Winstock ended with the committee owing $79,000.
“After the first festival, we decided we had to have another festival,” Winstock committee member Dick Langenfeld said.
Some additional committee members were brought in.
“The core committee was made up of our friends,” Ollig said. “We were all on the Winsted centennial committee together. And we’re still friends,” Ollig added.
“I can’t remember a year when we have really had a disagreement,” Winstock committee member Bonnie Quast said. “I think the respect among the group is very high.”
With additional committee members and some new advertisers, the second year of Winstock lost only $21,000 and also acquired a nickname.
K102 radio announcer John Hines called the event “Mud Stock.”
That was the year Joe Rasset became a committee member.
“The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band was playing and it was pouring rain and they had the stage halfway down,” Rasset said.
“Up until that time I had nothing to do with Winstock. I saw Dave (Danielson) with electrical cords over his arms, trying to hang tarps up on the beer tent, and throwing down pallets to keep the volunteers from drowning, and I kind of started helping him.”
“He said, ‘Hey, if you have this under control, I have to go take the power back to the RV.’ I saw him again about midnight, after the show shut down, and he said, ‘you did such a good job, you are back again next year,’” Rasset said.
The rain has plagued quite a few of the Winstock events.
When the committee was asked what a favorite Winstock year was, Ollig replied, “The years it didn’t rain.”
Quast joked, “Let’s see. There were two of them.”
But the rain and mud did not seem to keep people away from Winstock. They just kept coming.
“I have seen people on the campground on the muddy years, when all you could see were the whites of their eyes,” Ollig said, “but they were having a great time.”
The second year was also the year that Winstock committee chairman Dave Danielson joined the committee and he recalled the very wet festival grounds.
The way Danielson tells it, all of the food vendors were blowing circuits and he was dragging this electrical cable through the mud when Sammy Kershaw opened the door to his bus and said, “Come on in and get a beer. You look like you need one.”
Danielson told Kershaw he had to get the power up and running. However, when Kershaw asked the second time, Danielson decided it was the least he could do.
The country music festival continued to grow in size, and made some financial gains.
By the fourth year, enough money was made to pay back all of the loans and land was purchased to the south of the airport where Winstock is currently located.
“One of the major things that has happened is the purchase of that property in 1998,” Winstock committee member Butch Amundson said. “And not having to rely on having it at the airport. There, we had to set it up in two days. Since the property was acquired, it was a lot easier to set it up because we could have all the time we needed.”
Along with the purchase of the property, the committee has put in permanent roads, electricity, and lighting. It has also added a permanent stage.
Today, the festival has been named one of the top country music festivals around. It draws between 14,000 and 15,000 people, with more than 1,500 campsites.
Instead of one radio station advertising Winstock, it now has 36 stations in five states.
There are Winstock mailings sent to 48 states.
“My friend just came back from Mexico and she met up with two people who had Winstock shirts on down there,” Quast said.
“We have people that have gone online in Germany, Italy, Greece, and Japan,” Amundson said.
The core committee has seen other signs of Winstock’s growing popularity. Once, the committee struggled with getting sponsors and vendors.
“I had to go begging,” Quast said.
“Now we get vendors contacting us all of the time who want to come here,” Ollig said. “One thing we have always prided ourselves on are the people that were loyal to us in the beginning, we have stayed with.”
Committee member John Entinger said, “I work in the metro area and when I tell people where I live, the first thing they ask me about is Winstock.”
Dick Langenfeld sees the popularity of the festival, “in the amount of pre-sales which has mushroomed every year.”
“Campsites A and B are almost like Green Bay Packer tickets handed down almost from generation to generation,” Langenfeld said.
Ollig attributed the success of Winstock to several things:
• It is a fundraiser for a school, all the profit goes to the school.
• It is run by volunteers.
• People feel safe because there is good security. Ollig said he has heard this many times.
• People are treated well and made to feel welcomed.
Winstock has made a total of $2 million for Holy Trinity School over the last 15 years.
Without the 700 or 800 volunteers who come out and work every year, the committee knows this festival would not be possible.
Some just come for a 4.5-hour shift, others spend the weekend working, and still others are out there the entire week.
“If we didn’t have that whole group of people, Winstock would never happen,” LuAnn Ollig said.
And as Danielson points out, everyone who is part of Winstock wants the same thing: “To make as much money as we can for the kids.”
“The ownership goes to all of the volunteers and that is how it works. Everybody wants it to work,” LuAnn Ollig said.
Since last year’s festival ended, the committee has been working on the 16th annual Winstock Country Music Festival scheduled for June 12 and 13.
Amundson said his favorite Winstock will always be the next one.
Two other committee members shared a favorite Winstock moment.
“The most rewarding time of the weekend to me is between midnight and 2 a.m. Saturday night, after whoever is left there is still sitting in the back stage having a beer and we are thinking, ‘we did it again and we did a good job,’” Dick Langenfeld said. “It is a rewarding time and I would sit there until 4 a.m., but can’t stay awake that long.”
And Danielson likes Sunday evening Mass at Holy Trinity when he is able to finally sit back and reflect on the weekend.
Some favorite Winstock stories
The Winstock committee had many stories to share throughout the interview. A few humorous ones include:
• Sending Max Fasching to Hutchinson on a very hot day to buy up all of the ice he could get from Cashwise and haul it back in a van. When he returned, the van was swaying and dripping water.
• Winstock volunteer Jan Eggert getting locked in one of the refrigerated trailers when the door accidentally closed on her. She was named the coolest volunteer that year.
• Amundson helping a girl with heat stroke while her sister auditioned for a chance to sing on Winstock’s stage.
Quast said she thinks “miraculous” things have happened at Winstock. “Horrible things can happen, but they always turn out alright,” she said. “There are angels watching over this thing (Winstock).”
In 2002, when straight line winds blew the roof off of the Winstock stage into the VIP seating area, the Winstock committee might have considered Paul Hanson one of those angels.
Hanson, owner of Rocket Crane, brought a crane out on a moment’s notice to put the roof back on. The next morning, Ram Buildings was over and the whole crew helped set the stage back up.
Besides the amusing stories and close encounters with some major storms, the committee shared many stories about acts of kindness that have occurred, bringing out the small town concern and caring in a countrywide event.
• Laxen told of people giving up their front row seating for the Merle Haggard concert to a 70-year-old couple who came from Nebraska.
• Quast had a story about a little boy who said he won a television, but his mother had thrown away his winning ticket by accident. Quast had already sent out another set of numbers on the TV, but said if no one had claimed the prize at the end of the day, it was his. When he returned that night, the television was waiting for him.
• A Trick Pony concert brought a young girl in a wheelchair from South Dakota. Quast had been given three “meet and greet” passes just before the girl arrived and was able to get her through the gates.
“Those people were so gracious, they took that little girl and lifted her out of her wheelchair and took her in the bus and just made her whole night for her. That was awesome,” Quast said.
“I can’t tell you how many times those things happened,” Quast said.
“Where else could you go to a festival where you could talk to someone and make something like that happen? Where it was personal?” Entinger asked.