Music lovers pack Rhinelander in prep for Hodag Country Fest - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Music lovers pack Rhinelander in prep for Hodag Country Fest

RHINELANDER (WAOW) -- Campgrounds in Rhinelander are already filling with people for Hodag Week.

Organizers of the Hodag Country Festival say 3,000 campers and RV's are set up.

They expect another 3,000 before Thursday when the annual summertime show opens.

Jeff Olson of Merrill set the scene nicely for the festival.

"We're country," he said. "There's nothing but lakes and woods up here. It's just beautiful country."

Preparations began months ago.

Gerry Van Harpen, the festival's coordinator, says it's a year-round commitment to get everything ready for when the gates open.

Jean Ballweg of Dane is a food vendor at the festival. She says she's been preparing for this weekend since last year.

Fans also had this weekend circled on their calendars.

"We planned it probably two to three months out, who was going to drive, who was going to bring what food and pack the campers," said Diane Nowak of Sheboygan Falls.

Organizers say there are already 7,000 people on the grounds, which opened last Saturday. The four-day country music extravaganza is expected to attract about 30,000 music lovers.

Festival diehards say all the preparations are worth it.

"Even though it is a lot of work, it's late nights, people are so much fun," Ballweg said. "Everybody's in a great mood here. They're all here for the same reason -- to have a good time."

Some people equate the relaxing days leading up to the festival to spending time with family.

"Every year you come back, oh there they are, there they are, so every time you come it's someone new you're adding to your family," Nowak said.

The camaraderie of the festival is what stands out to Ballweg.

"How many times have you been standing around and someone will drive by in a pickup truck or a car and they'll yell, 'Happy Hodag!' and that's what the whole event is about," she said.

With a couple more days to go, Hodag can't come soon enough.

The concert starts Thursday with Kenny Rogers as the first headliner.

Organizers say tickets and campsites are still available.
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