Hodag fan looks back on 35 years at the festival - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Hodag fan looks back on 35 years at the festival

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RHINELANDER (WAOW) -

Thursday marks the official start of Hodag Country Festival 2013, but thousands of fans lined up early to stake out a prime spot for all the music.

That includes Raymond Rogers from Wisconsin Rapids. He's seen more concerts on the Hodag stage than most.

"We're still going strong," he said.

The 73 year old has been attending the festival for 35 years. That means he's only missed one weekend in the festival's 36 year history: the first one.

"The entertainment is what we come back here for every year," said Rogers.

He still remembers his first summer on the Hodag grounds.

"We spread a blanket out. Friday night, they had free beer and we had a really good time, so we decided we'd be coming back other years," he said.

Back then, he said several hundred people attended. A few more come now. Try 20,000 people.

Many of those fans took part in a Hodag tradition Wednesday night called the chair line. Groups of people line up and are randomly selected by staff to get the best seats.

"That's part of the history of Hodag," said Festival Coordinator Gerry Van Harpen.

She said this year's festival does have some changes.

"We have a box for people to test if their cooler fits in there," said Van Harpen.

For safety and security reasons, only coolers that can fit beneath lawn chairs will be allowed in the entertainment area. Hodag fans said they understand why.

"I think over the years people have gotten bigger and bigger and inventive with different types of coolers," said Susan Johnson of Marshfield. That makes it easier for them to take up space, or trip up fans walking through the grounds.

"We'll all adjust," she added.

Organizers hope so. They told people lining up to take a seat that if they find a cooler that's too big in the entertainment area, it will be confiscated and won't be returned.

Meanwhile, Raymond Rogers said no matter what changes are made, he's keep coming.

"Until I can't walk," he added.

And even then, he said a wheelchair is an option.

The music starts with Marty's Party at 5:00 p.m. on Thursday night.

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