The Last Windrow: Small-town festival organizers have a lot on their plate

They have to make sure the barbecue and bingo providers are on task or trouble will arise.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

"You mean I was supposed to serve the barbecue today? Geez, I've got to go home and get it!"

The life of a small-town festival coordinator is not an easy one. You've heard the old axiom, "It's like trying to manage a herd of cats." Well, I think a herd of cats might be more desirable in some cases.

Never, while I was guiding that Allis Chalmers across the cornfields of Iowa, did I ever think that somewhere down the road I would land the "opportunity" to coordinate a small-town festival.

But that opportunity did arrive some 40 years ago when I was a new business owner along with my wife in a small town in northern Minnesota - Pine River. I will not use names in this column to protect the innocent as my mind travels back to that first festival. I must have had a brain cramp when I raised my hand to volunteer for this job. After all, how tough could it be?

My committee was small that year. Five other good folks had volunteered to help me organize the annual summer festival. They are all good to work with, and in the end we all survived the experience and came away a little wiser for the effort.


One of our keystone events during the weekend was a free barbecue lunch. I had made an agreement with a local gentleman who was known for his delicious barbecue lunches. He had cooked many such meals at the local American Legion and he assured me that this was no big deal.

We agreed to the day and time. I thought.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

My schedule showed that the meal would be served beginning at noon on Friday. As I strolled to the site of the meal on Friday morning, I expected to see him setting up his tables and getting ready. There was no one on site, but it was early and I knew he would have everything ready by noon.

At 10 o'clock he still hadn't shown up when I saw his pickup heading my way up the street. He pulled over and rolled down his window with a smile on his face.

I asked him, "I suppose you're getting ready for the noon barbecue?"

He looked stunned.


"You mean I was supposed to serve the barbecue today? I thought it was tomorrow! Geez! I've got to go home and pick up the food!"

My heart skipped a beat and a lump developed in my throat. In the end, he did show up with the goods and the crowd was happy. Little did they know I had just escaped the jaws of death.

My bingo organizer assured me that the bingo tent would be up and operating at 11 o'clock. The tent was at the ready and my mother was eagerly waiting to play bingo. Then, 10:30 came and no bingo machine was present and I grew uneasy. The tent was filling up with eager bingo players when I made the call to see where the bingo machine was.

The manager of the Legion answered my call and informed me that my bingo organizer had just gone out of town on a storm watch. I could feel my forehead tighten as the manager assured me that she would bring the machine to the tent.

Photo illustration, Shutterstock, Inc.

Bingo started a little later than scheduled and my mother reminded me that I was late, but she forgave me.

The rest of the festival went like clockwork. The horseshoe tourney drew a good amount of pitchers, the sidewalk sales went off without a hitch, the parade came down the street on time with only minor infractions, and the ladies selling baked goods did a bang-up business.


That was the first of 30 such festivals I had a hand in organizing. They got better over time.

This coming week our small community will celebrate our summer festival again. The reins have been turned over to a new and eager crew.

I am always open to offering if my advice is asked. One point I will make is to double-check the date and time with your barbecue provider and the bingo person. They hold the true keys to happiness!

See you next time. Okay?

What To Read Next
Members Only
Get Local