Compiled by the Northwoods News Staff
Mike Michalak, also known as Double-M, serves as the morning host of WHDG Hodag Country 97.3. He has enough memories about the Hodag Country Festival (HCF) to fill a book. In fact, you can look for the upcoming historic tome “Country in the Country-A Backstage Look At The Hodag Country Festival” in 2022. Over the past 43 years, Michalak has only missed two Hodag County Festivals. As we look forward to the triumphant return of this cornerstone of Northwoods entertainment, we could think of no better authority to give us a deeper look behind the scenes and into the heart of Hodag Country Fest.
Michalak recalls that the first HCF was held in 1978, and attended by roughly 250 people. The event was founded by Bernie and Diane Eckert, Ernie Feight and Ted Tschannen. Feight and Tschannen left after a few years, but the Eckerts were able to turn it into a family business in the 1990s. Leroy Van Dyke was one of the original performers. When he came to the festival in 2017 for one of his six return performances, he admitted to Michalak in an interview that he didn’t think there would be a “second annual” Festival. Much to the joy of thousands of audience members over the years, he was proven wrong.
When asked about the famous country stars that have come through the festival over the years, Michalak replied, “Organizers/promoters of the HCF have a knack for recognizing young talent and continue that trend today. Festers enjoyed a young Garth Brooks, Blake Shelton back in his mullet days, and the King, George Strait. There were also the big names of the decade like Joe Stampley, Mickey Gilley, Freddy Fender, Rex Allen, Jr., Ray Price and many more.” Dozens of stories involving these artists will be contained in his upcoming book.
The connections that Michalak has made over four decades of festivals will last a lifetime. Highlights range “…from doing a shot of Fireball with LOCASH to having Alan Jackson send me a letter saying he’s not copying me. I published my first book, ‘It’s Always Noon Somewhere In The World’ about the time he dropped his single, ‘It’s 5-O’Clock Somewhere.’ He even asked ME to autograph the copy I gave him! This year I’ll be taking Brett Eldredge muskie fishing! The best part about the HCF though is the people. Hard-core country fans and partiers! You can get smashed just walking across the grounds with everyone sharing beers, Jello shots and the like. And Neal McCoy is the unofficial mayor, having appeared here nearly 30 times.”
The Hodag Country Festival is more than just a celebration of summer, camping and country music. The event also contributes to the financial well-being of the Rhinelander area. “Being a private event, it employs a couple thousand people and pumps millions into the local economy,” Michalak shared. “There’s over 2,000 of campers that, if they’re not already self-sufficient, come into town for everything from fuel to food, ponchos, sunscreen and the ever precious bags of ice. Not to mention refills on those favorite beverages. Local bars offer specials to those wearing the wristbands, and if you have firewood, you’re in the money.”
When we asked Michalak if there was anything else he wanted people to know about Hodag Country Fest, he simply replied, “There’s so much here, it’s difficult to express. But suffice it to say for the 30,000+ who attend, it’s the ultimate summer party.”
July 8, 2021 through July 11, 2021
Rhinelander – Hodag Park
The Hodag Country Festival has been proud to host some of the best country music artists since its inception in 1978. The Hodag Country Festival has been featured on TV programs like Discover Wisconsin and ranked among the favorite destinations in the state.
Considering all the new guidelines surrounding the pandemic, the chair line will work differently this year. It will still be a lottery-style system that provides an equal opportunity for all who participate. While the chair line is an option many Hodagers enjoy, it is not mandatory to participate. Chairs can be put out any time after the chair line event is complete. Find out more information on the chair line here: http://www.hodag.com/country-music/chair-line-details/
From Saturday, July 3rd until Sunday, July 11th, 2021, the Pavilion will be filled with exceptional entertainment. Don’t miss the karaoke contest held on Thursday, July 8th! The Pavilion is the large open building located to the east of the main stage, where you can buy official HCF T-shirts and other souvenirs like sweatshirts, jackets, and all sorts of things. The Pavilion is also where alcoholic beverages are served. View the line-up here: http://www.hodag.com/country-music/pavilion/
The Hodag Country Festival Campgrounds open on Saturday, July 3rd, 2021, at 6:00 am. All campers must have a nine-day ticket in their possession to be admitted to the campgrounds. Camping is not allowed with daily tickets. Nine-day ticket holders may stay through the festival for the same low fee. For information on camping, please visit: http://www.hodag.com/country-music/camping/
Rules and Regulations:
Due to the cooperation of guests in the past, the Hodag Country Festival has not had to impose an overabundance of rules. However, with the large crowds, some things have come up for which the following list has been made. This list of rules and regulations has been put into effect to keep order throughout the week and for the safety of everyone attending, so please adhere to them.
Read them here: http://www.hodag.com/country-music/camping/hodag-rules-regulations/
Tickets for the 43rd Hodag Country Festival, taking place July 8 through 11, 2021, are now available (Skybox seats are sold out). All tickets sold for HCF 2021 will be contactless. Orders can be placed anytime by clicking on the tickets tab on the website or by calling the office at 715-369-1300 during regular hours.
Remember: Hold on to your 2020 Tickets and Camping Permits; they are valid for the 2021 Festival.
2021 Music Line Up:
For more general Hodag Festival information:
Need more information or have questions?
Call: 800-762-3803 or 715-369-1300
4270 River Road
PO Box 1184
Rhinelander, WI 54501