BLOG: The Making of a Door County Festival

Festivals are a staple of the Door County Community and here in Baileys Harbor, we definitely have our fair share. Spring Fling Festival, happening the third weekend in May, kicks off our festival season. For most of you, a festival is a day, two if you’re lucky. For me, Spring Fling starts in January. I am a community coordinator and it falls on my shoulders and those of my Board and volunteers to organize all these events.

Door County Scottie Rally Scottie Rally Parade at Spring Fling Festival Live Music_Door County

First thing we do is find the entertainment. There may be an up-and-coming band that I’ve heard and think would fit our crowd or it’s a go-to guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Some festivals, like Fall Fest in Sister Bay, have a signature band that they hire every year. With the smaller festivals, we usually try to bring in new bands we’d like to “test out” before debuting them at the major events. This year, I got lucky and booked Modern Day Drifters, a local favorite that gets everyone up on their feet. The music is what keeps people hanging around and having fun so it’s always the first priority. Once the entertainment is booked, I move on to activities. We try to work with nonprofit groups and our local businesses to create a fun environment. In past years, we’ve worked with a local company to have segway rides to tour our lighthouses and beaches. We are also trying to incorporate kayak tours into some of our festivals this year. It’s all about people having fun and celebrating what our towns have to offer.

Have you ever been to a festival and walked through a village of tents selling everything from firewood grabbers, to silverware jewelry, to locally grown tomatoes? These people don’t just show up on the day and set up, although I’m sure they’d love to. I send out arts & craft applications in January and you would be amazed how die hard these people are! On festival days, you can wander through the arts & crafts section to find anything and everything you could possibly want or need. We are very lucky to have such a wide variety of vendors. Some of the best photography, fine art and jewelry can be found at these events for affordable prices.

Vendors at Craft Fair _ Baileys Harbor

One of the best parts about festivals is the food court. Spring Fling is usually a tricky one for me since we never know what the weather will be like. The BHCA, the nonprofit organization that I work for, operates the beverage stand. We order the very appropriately named “Party Wagon” from the local beer distributor and can offer up to 16 different kinds of beers on tap. The soda guy usually delivers 50-60 cases of soda but with bigger festivals like the 4th of July we get a full refrigerated trailer just for soda and water. We’re talking hundreds of cases and dozens of half barrels of beer!

Grilling at Baileys Harbor FestivalWhat do you consider “Festival Food”? Usually images of brats and burgers come to mind but we’ve taken a new approach. Not only do we have the usual suspects, but have also added in some of our farm market participants and now feature egg rolls, tacos, bakery items, and much more. My personal favorite is the “Egg Roll Lady”. Technically, it’s a family affair with about a dozen family members on-hand rolling, frying and serving up authentic veggie and pork egg rolls. We have some of the best chefs around and they love to show off their fare for everyone to experience. They use locally sourced ingredients and put together tasty treats for you. It’s not every day you see classically trained chefs and restaurateurs setting up shop in a ten foot by ten foot tent serving up dishes like Shrimp and Grits or Waseda Farms braised pork tacos with cilantro. It’s truly a magical experience. The food turns an average event into a highlight of the year so if you are stopping by, come hungry!

The fun doesn’t stop on Saturday on the festival grounds. Some of our local businesses put on live music events at night to help keep the party going. Sunday mornings bring the Farm Markets and more great music, food, and tons of locally grown or made items. Thankfully one of my volunteers is in charge of the farm markets so I just stop in to take pictures and chat with the vendors.

DoorCounty_FarmersMarket Garden Produce, Photo Credit: Dawn Abraham

A typical festival day for me is a 20 hour day or more. I am on the festival grounds around 6am and there until well into the night. Last year for Autumnfest, I logged over 20,000 steps in 14 hours. I am on call for any and all emergencies. There is never a dull moment when you are in charge of thousands of people’s safety, entertainment, and all the things that go along with it. My husband likes to joke that, “When you’re married to the coordinator, you are not a volunteer. You’re enlisted.” Although it makes me cringe whenever I hear him say that, I have found looking around that these festivals would not happen if it weren’t for my family, friends and our amazing volunteers. If listening to my story makes you want to get involved… well we just became best friends! To get more involved and volunteer for an event, reach out to the community that you will be visiting. If you haven’t decided which one, the Door County Visitor’s Bureau can help you find festivals and events that are happening when you’re in town. We are always looking for more help and would love to have you!