Originally published in the June 2021 issue of Lakeside Living. Click here for the magazine issue.
I’m standing in the broad middle aisle of Lakefest, slurping down the icy sweetness of a coffee-flavored snow cone, when a tiny flash of pink rushes by me. The hot pink blur is a little girl in a ruffled sundress, maybe 5 or 6, her sunkissed curls streaming behind her as she runs towards one of the boats for sale, calling out, “Look at this sparkly boat, mama! It’s got glitter on it!”
I smile, not caring if the shaved ice syrup has turned my tongue and teeth a scary color. I can’t help myself. I look around, and people everywhere are laughing as they scramble up the ladders into the glistening new boats, leaning back into the cushy leather seats, imagining themselves on this boat at the lake every Saturday, cold drink or fishing rod in hand, living the dream. Another group grins while they admire the row of gleaming GMCs lined up like shiny soldiers down by the lake, practically blinding you with their newness.
The feeling is everywhere––under the colorful canopies of the vendors, even in the line for Golden Rule BBQ––it’s pure joy. Maybe even a hint of relief. You can almost see the live spark forking through the crowd like summer lightning. Lakefest is back, and it truly is better than ever.
Just ask Justin Hogeland, one of the key organizers of Lakefest for the past eight years, that is, if you can catch him. In between directing vendor traffic and casually riffing jokes with fellow organizer and emcee Eric Housh during the hourly raffle giveaways, Justin finds a moment to share his thoughts on this year’s event.
“How does it feel to be back after having to cancel last year?” I ask, watching a smile spread across his sun-tanned face. “Fabulous.” The word lingers in the air for a moment while we nod and laugh. “I wish I had better words, but you know, we think everybody was just ready to get out, as you can see by the crowds.”
The good news didn’t stop there. “Some years, we’ve had a hassle with some of the vendors moving in, but this year, everybody was gracious, much more patient. Every sponsor has already committed for next year,” he reveals, “and we have another big sponsor who wants to be involved. ” Justin, alongside fellow Lakefest organizers Eric Housh, Lee Holmes, Mark Hildebrant, and Judy Carr, are already looking to make 2022 a standout year.
Before he turns to wade back into the thick of the festivities, I ask, “What do you love most about this event?” He pauses a moment…”The ability to give back to the community. To see the growth of the event––it’s been unprecedented. You know, the first year we did it, we were only able to give back roughly 2000 dollars to the community and charity organizations, which I was honored to even do that, but on average now, we’re probably looking at giving back $45-50,000 just this year. It’s the 10th year of Lakefest, and we’ve been able to give back a quarter of a million dollars.”
On that final note, he waves goodbye, heading back towards the stage, and I turn right, heading towards the mouth-watering smell of barbecue and fresh crab cakes. Swimsuit season may be upon us, but that didn’t stop me from savoring every last perfectly seasoned bite of the crab cake sandwich from Tiki Island Concessions served with crisp lettuce and a thick, red-ripe slice of tomato.
At nearby picnic tables, couples and families chow down on slow-cooked, hickory-smoked pork sandwiches drizzled with classic Golden Rule BBQ sauce while some indulge in toasted sandwiches and chili cheese fries from “Traffic Jam,” a food truck you don’t mind having parked right in front of you. Meanwhile, singer/songwriter Matt Bennett kept the energy pumping with his smooth country-meets-rock vocals.
Needing to make room for some Dippin’ Dots for dessert, I stroll from vendor to vendor, starting near the “Magnanimous Beard & Body Oil,” finally ending up at Allen Norris’s “YakShak” pining over a decked-out kayak. Along the way, I sign up for every giveaway under the sun. Of course, I’ll be happy and surprised if I win anything, but I may even be more surprised as to what I might win. With so many prizes, it’s hard to keep track of it all––gift cards, gift baskets, a Cutco knife, Oakley sunglasses, a Tracker 300 ATV worth $5,000…
Lakefest is one of those rare events where you not only make memories during these three days, but you get to invest in more. I’ve shopped, made new friends and connections, eaten like a kid just set free from school for the summer, and almost stopped to get my face painted.
Sunday marks the final day of Lakefest, and I’m standing here on the pier wishing I hadn’t missed the Friday night fireworks. But, like Justin, I’m already looking forward to next year. Maybe I’ll wear a Lakefest t-shirt or a happy pink sundress as I visit the vendors, marveling at the latest boats and vehicles on the market, all while gleefully numbing my tongue with yet another snow cone under the sun.