Another Fourth of July and another Stump Dodger Bash in Gays Mills. This year, the camping and parking have been expanded to accommodate the more than 1,800 attendees that organizer-promoter Jim Showen is expecting.
“I really want to see this become a reason to come home,” said Showen. “There are people who know and like the area. This gives them something to do, another reason to visit.”
So what does the event offer?
For $50, you get to see eight country acts in two days. Many of the acts are up and coming, others established and solid performers. It is from that latter category that you find Saturday’s headliners BlackHawk. Performing together since 1992, guitarist/vocalist Henry Paul and keyboardist/vocalist Dave Robbins of the Nashville-based Blackhawk and their six-piece, back-up band, bring a ‘60s rock-inspired love of harmony to their take on country music.
The Birds, the Beatles, Buffalo Springfield are just a few groups sited as an inspiration to the BlackHawk approach to writing music, according to Paul. Their personal lives supply the material for the lyrics.
“We try to write and record songs that speak well of us as artists,” said Paul. “We have a universal appeal, I think. Not all of our fans are fans of country music. We aren’t interested in being snobs.”
Along with third founding member Van Stephenson, Henry Paul and Dave Robbins scored their first top-ten hit in 1993 with their self-titled album and single ‘Goodbye Says It All.’ Three more hit singles followed (‘Every Once In A While,’ ‘I Sure Can Smell The Rain’ and ‘That’s Just About Right’), propelling the album to platinum status. They have had a dozen top ten hits, including two number ones, while selling more than seven million records in the years since.
Stephenson passed away in 2001 from cancer. The remaining duo established the Van Stephenson Memorial Cancer Research Fund in his memory, supporting the efforts of the Vanderbilt Cancer Research Center.
Twenty-one years after they first formed, Paul says music remains the driving force of their lives.
“Every night is different,” Paul said. “You get a chance to be nice to people, to do something for them.”
It’s an easy thing to do, playing a request that has meaning for the listener, according to Paul, and is an important part of what makes a performance satisfying.
“It’s a pretty good way to live your life,” the performer said.
The act plays over 100 shows each year, spending 160 to 170 days on the road traveling to and from shows.
Despite all that time traveling, their families are integral parts of their lives. Paul’s eldest son, Henry, now acts as their stage manager.
Returning act and rising star Jared Blake will headline the Friday night stage.
Blake brings a little ‘outlaw’ country to the stage, with influences like Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, and Waylon Jennings blended with a rock and roll sensibility.
Blake’s first single ‘Countryfied’ from his upcoming debut album debuted at No. 79 on the Music Row Country Breakout chart on December 12, 2013 and peaked at No. 66. His second single ‘Stomp’ was released on June 20, 2014 and the six-song EP ‘Til Morning Light’ was released on September 30, 2014. ‘Stomp’ is currently at No. 76 on the Music Row Country Breakout Chart.
Joining BlackHawk and Jared Blake are:
• Prom Queen Rejects – Friday at 4:30 p.m. – The all-female teenage alternative country band has been described as a mix between Miranda Lambert and Gretchen Wilson with a dash of Pink. They are currently working on their second album and recording their new single, ‘I Sing for You,’ which is dedicated to the band members who have lost parents to the battle with cancer. All five members are still in high school. • Spitfire Rodeo – Friday at 7 p.m. – A seven-piece band haling from Wisconsin, cover band Spitfire Rodeo won the 2012 Noah's Ark ‘Rock the Ark’ Contest and were a finalist in the
2013 Appleton Post Crescent's ‘Best of the Valley’ Contest. The band can be found playing throughout the state most weekends.
• High Mileage – Saturday at 2:25 p.m.
• Shalo Lee Band – Saturday at 4 p.m. – Shalo Lee is a singer/songwriter from River Falls, Wisconsin. After auditioning and getting her first paying job for the legendary Jim Owen at the Micky Gilley Theatre in Branson, Missouri, she went on to front countless regional bands, win numerous vocal competitions, and perform throughout the country and beyond. Her most recent live bands include co-fronting Mick Sterling and the Irresistibles, her Americana project, Shalo Lee and Northern Southern, and of course her most recent ensemble, the Shalo Lee Band. In February, 2014, she released her debut original album, ‘Hometown Girl,’ which is already garnering critical praise. Shalo lives a happy, grateful, and modest life in Northeast Minneapolis.
• Jacob Powell – Saturday at 8 p.m. – Born in Lawrenceburg, Tennessee, Powell abandoned med school to pursue music. He offers up an alternative country-rock mix with a distinctive voice.
Local food vendors will be on hand to keep folks fed and kids games are planned at 10 a.m. on Saturday to help keep families entertained. Parents should listen for the sign-up announcement on Friday, Showen noted.
“We want this to be a family friendly event,” Showen said.
Once again, proceeds from beer sales at this year’s Bash will go to support the Wheel of Todd Foundation, providing an ill child and their family an all-expenses-paid trip to watch the Packers play a home game.
And come dusk on Saturday, the Gays Mills Fourth of July fireworks display is shot off in from the county fairgrounds.
“Everyone who has seen our town’s fireworks are just awed by the display,” Showen added.
Showen worked with radio station KNEI to develop the lineup. Financial support from area businesses such as Royal Bank, the Marketplace, Organic Valley, BAPI and more help make the Stump Dodger Bash a reality, Showen explained.
Day passes are also available $30. Children ages 16 and under are free when accompanied by an adult pass holder.