What do Woodstock Music Festival and Biscay Days have in common?
The answer: three days of live music.
Woodstock, of course, made history Aug. 15-18, 1969 — 50 years ago — with its celebration of peace, music and love.
Biscay Days is making history here and now with its three days of live music beginning Friday and continuing through Sunday.
It takes place outdoors on two stages at Neisen’s Bar and Grill in Biscay. In case of inclement weather, festivities can move indoors. So far, the weather has cooperated so it’s never happened.
Kicking off this year’s music fest is Bill Litzau and Open Highway 5-8 p.m. Friday, followed by the Original Shaw Band with Mike Shaw, Greg Muellerleile, Brian Jentges and Jon Wheeler 8:30 p.m.-midnight.
Chuck Popelka, who launched Biscay Days six years ago, said they had the largest crowd ever last year for Friday night with opening act Bill Litzau and Open Highway followed by the double headliner of the Original Shaw Band and the Shaw Brothers Band. He estimated the crowd as between 1,000-1,200 people.
“In three hours we sold 600 hamburgers Friday night, if that’s any indication,” he said. “We would have had double the crowd, but we ran out of parking spaces. People didn’t want to walk 2 miles down Highway 22. The State Patrol talked to me about having so many people walking along the highway.”
Also returning this year on Saturday is Ron E. Cash, who performs a Johnny Cash tribute show. New to Biscay Days is the evening headliner: the Devon Worley Band.
“This is his fourth year,” Popelka said about Cash. “We get a huge following for him. We bring him back every year and we keep bringing him back. The Devon Worley Band is a national act. I hope we can get a crowd in on that. It’s a gamble on that one. We hope we do OK.”
In addition to the draw of Saturday’s musical lineup, fans can enjoy an all-you-can-eat pork chop dinner.
“We serve 1,300-1,500 pork chops in seven hours,” Popelka said. “We’re putting through 400-plus people for just the meal. Pork prices went up this year, but I kept the price the same. I don’t know if we’ll make 50 cents a plate. The word is getting out we do a good job with it. More people come each year. Nobody is getting rich. We’re just doing it to have a good time.”
Sunday brings back another favorite: Sherwin and Pam Linton and The Cotton Kings.
“A lot of people enjoy seeing Sherwin Linton,” Popelka said.
Linton is a familiar name to country music fans. He has a long history of performances with his band in the Hutchinson and Litchfield area going back to the 1960s at the Lake Marion Ballroom. He, Pam and their band perform more than 200 shows a year from Minnesota to Texas. He has toured the U.S. and Canada for 62 years, charted 20 records and has been inducted into 12 Hall of Fames including the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in New Ulm.
If the music, $3 brats and burgers and a $10 all-you-can-eat pork chop dinner doesn’t draw a crowd, Popelka can count on free beer to bring in the people.
“Neisen’s donates the free beer,” he said. “I think we went through 5-6 kegs Friday night (last year). It’s a substantial amount of beer. It’s an incentive. We used to do a sweet corn feed. We do things like that to get people there.”
This year, free domestic beer is offered 6-7 and 8-9 p.m. Friday, and 8-9 p.m. Saturday.
HOW IT STARTED
Popelka never expected to be organizing an event such as Biscay Days, but when opportunity knocked, he answered.
“I was sitting down with Dan Neisen, who asked me about doing some outside shows. Could I organize something like that? I started checking into it. In order to do this, I would have to start a business to do it. Donations and volunteers put this on. I started it with a few local bands and built it up from there.”
It originally took place the third weekend in September.
“We got caught in the cold too many times, so we moved it up to the weekend after Labor Day three or four years ago,” he said.
When it comes to choosing the music, Popelka said he welcomes suggestions.
“I’m not handpicking my favorite bands by any means,” he said. “We’re trying to do what people want.”
Through the years, Popelka said they’ve tried different things.
“There’s no cover charges,” he said. “We tried it once and it deterred people. I’d rather have a big crowd and have them spend their money on a burger and a beer rather than have 10 people standing there.”
He’s also tried to attract a younger crowd by booking bands such as Johnny Holm.
“We tend to have a more middle-aged crowd,” he said. “That’s the reason I get the Shaw Band. It’s my age, mid-40s or older, who come to this. We’ve had a couple other acts that drew a young crowd, but it never seems to be a success. We attract the baby boomer generation.”
Next year, Popelka is thinking about opening space for vendors.
“Our biggest problem is we’re limited in space,” he said. “We have to be careful how we organize things and how we do things.”
If you’re looking for Popelka this weekend, he’ll be at Neisen’s beginning with a half-day Thursday.
“I’ll be working,” he said. “It’s a couple of 16-hour days in a row. It gets to be a long, drawn-out process. I’ll be jumping around from hamburgers, pork chops, setting up bands, whatever someone needs, they find me.”
Why does Popelka do it? He admitted it was a good question.
“I don’t really get anything out of it,” he said. “I really enjoy live music. I like organizing things like this. It was scary as heck the first couple of years. It’s one of those things where people come up to me all year around asking ‘Who is playing? Is it happening?’
“All the support keeps me doing it,” he added. “Some people think I’m nuts. It’s a year-round, part-time job. I’m thankful we have a good group of volunteers who turn out every year. We try to do our best.”