In its eighth year, Bluegrass at the Lake has become a regular event for musicians, campers, and concertgoers from outside Marion County.
What residents may not know is that a group of out-of-towners helped breathe life into the annual concert.
Along with lake superintendent Steve Hudson, part-time lake residents Bob McCurdy and Mike Crane were instrumental in starting Bluegrass at the Lake.
“Bob and Mike and some other guys came up with the idea to have a concert out at the lake,” Hudson said, “something like Winfield (bluegrass festival), but smaller, free, and open to the general public.”
McCurdy lives and works as a salesman in Goddard. He and his wife, Barbara, frequent the lake.
“It’s our home away from home,” McCurdy said. “We’re here almost every weekend. Call it our weekend relief.”
His first trip was in 1967. He camped out.
His affection for the pastoral location grew.
A dozen years ago, they bought a mobile home, which they planted at the lake’s trailer park.
“We like it here and we like the people,” he said. “We’ve grown a pretty good group of lake friends.”
Admiration for the area led McCurdy, Crane, and friends to want to help improve and sustain the lake.
Enter Bluegrass at the Lake.
“It’s intended to benefit the coffers of the lake, but it’s not just about the money,” McCurdy said. “Our main deal is to support the beauty of the lake itself.
“Some people around here don’t look on the trailer park people as a plus for the lake. I think it is hard for them to realize that we do some good for the community.”
The event brings money not just to the lake but also to county retailers.
“It goes hand in hand,” McCurdy said. “We buy from local retailers when we stay at the lake. I think a lot of other campers spend money in Marion when they’re here, too”
Hudson said the county took the McCurdy and Crane’s idea and ran with it.
“A lot of our weekend residents take as much pride in the lake as county residents do, and it’s not just the trailer park crew,” Hudson said. “A lot of them attend our community churches, too.”
Jacob Parks, a pipe fitter from Newton, and his wife, Kelli, have two children. Over the past five years, they have regularly stayed weekends in their camper in the lake trailer park.
“We used to just camp,” Parks said. “At first there were only a handful of kids in the mobile home area, but now there is a herd of 20 or more running around. We got to know all the neighbors and the neighbors’ neighbors, too.”
The lake has all the things his family enjoys. Eventually he got more involved.
“I wasn’t able to help this year,” he said, “but I normally just help with setup and prep.”
Along with other volunteers, Parks helped reconstruct the lake stage in the past.
In October he also will be host for a hosts a corn hole pitching tournament that happens after an annual chili cook-off at the lake.
“With these events, we just try to help make things better at the lake because it’s stuff we all enjoy,” Parks said.
Billy Frary is a sales manager at Midway Motors in Newton. He has been lake person since 1981, and he brings his wife and four kids now.
“At other places, the biggest thing is that you never know who your neighbor is going to be. But at the lake, there is a pretty big group of us,” Frary said. “We call it our ‘summer family.’”
He sometimes performs roadie duties at Bluegrass at the Lake. Along with other volunteers, he helped rebuild the stage after a fallen tree damaged it this year.
“I think we feel like we have an ownership out here. We pay property taxes. Everyone pulls together and works together,” Frary said. “Steve Hudson is great. He knows how to talk to people. He’s always thinking of different ways to make the lake better.”
Frary said Hudson let him erect a 25-foot screen to show a free movie on the lake stage.
“Originally, we were just going to do it in our yard,” Frary said. “It was a last minute, word-of-mouth sort of thing, but it snowballed.”
Husdon liked the idea and helped set up.
“I’m always open to suggestions and new ideas,” Hudson said. “I think it’s great when people get involved.”