Reflecting on the 61st Annual Flambeau Rama
The sugary scent of corn dogs, fried onions, and kettle corn. The salty fragrance of nachos, pulled pork sandwiches, and gyros. Burgers, brats, beer, and a grody condiment table nearby. The setting sun glaring through thick waves of heat over a fleet of open grills spattering grease into the atmosphere.
Music and laughter, singing and clapping. Old friends reunited, new couples testing the waters. Children running wild everywhere, herds of 30-somethings wearing matching t-shirts.
Welcome to Park Falls' annual Flambeau Rama festival - the weekend each year that the city pays tribute to it's unbreakable bond with the Flambeau River. As a reflection on the wealth of life the river brings to the area, a large portion of the downtown is closed to traffic so that family and friends can celebrate non-stop Thursday through Sunday.
The scene unfolds under a central tent housing two stages for different bands to perform each afternoon and evening. Inside, dozens of tables and hundreds of chairs are strewn about the dancing area. People mill around and dine in the daytime, but at night the place turns into a rip-roaring dance party. Probably due to the beer taps - that's why they call it the beer tent.
Outside that main tent (the beer tent), organized mostly to the south of it, is a collection of smaller tents lining the central walkway. This area is also known as "main street," "food ally," "food-tent causeway," "heart attack hall," or "maybe that's where my shoes are?" Butting up against the main tent and food tents is the carnival to the west. This is where you'll find the highest concentration of insanely-jacked-up-on-sugar kids. Proceed with caution...
Further to the south is the athletic complex, where a high-stakes game of softball rages throughout the four day event. Don't ask me what the stakes are, but the games get intense, so I assume they're high. Further south yet, and you'll find the ice arena raising money by serving drinks. Across the parking lot from the arena is the secret gem of the whole event - the "fireman's stand," where the drinks and food are cheaper and you can buy hotdogs by the foot.
The fireman's stand is comprised of a tent and a very large, wooden booth that is painted bright red. Both are stuffed inside the chain link fence that normally serves as the municipal skate park (they toss the skate ramps out back). Serving the Rama patrons, are, of course, the Park Falls Volunteer Fire Department members in navy blue t-shirts. This is always the go-to place on the final day of the event - directly after the noon parade downtown.
Now, there's a few different strategies as to the best way to enjoy Flambeau Rama. Some folks come only for the craft fair or classic car show on Saturday afternoon, others just for the carnival with their kids during the days, and others yet just for the bands at night. The whole thing lasts four days and three nights, and I say go for them all.
Go for them all, rain or shine, because it only happens once a year. One time each year this festival tugs at alumni and past residents, tourists and passersby, families large and small, class reunions, family reunions, and large throngs of old and new friends. There is literally something for all ages, at all times of the day, each day. The food and beverage prices are higher, but guess what, they're really not that bad - have you ever been to Miller Park? Plus, the cash you spend goes directly back into the community and to fund the event itself. What better way to spend some hard earned dollars.
Is the whole ordeal a little redneck? You betcha it is, and that's just fine. Flambeau Rama is not sexy. It's not modern or chic, nor is it very progressive or groundbreaking. This is a celebration of history and community. It's about commerce, backbone and reinforcement, about old ties, expanding relations, and sometimes, burying the hatchet. But above all else, it's about letting go, cutting loose, and really allowing yourself to have some fun!
Sometimes I get too caught up in what's next - too concerned with being efficient. This festival is a time to relax and enjoy the fruits of one's labors and the company of others. It's when we're allowed to take a collective breath and enjoy being alive in this place, with the people that make being here worthwhile.
Sometimes I forget that.
When I need to be reminded of how blessed I am to have participated in 20-something Flambeau Ramas, surrounded by people I really care about, in a land so green and healthy, I take another bite of the gyro in my hand, then listen and watch. I take a breath and enjoy the sun setting over the grills, the air sweated by cheese curds and warm blacktop. I do it before another classic rock song starts blaring from the band inside the tent, before I can't help but get up and dance to some Zeppelin.
*Note: Please bring back Consult the Briefcase!
See you out there,
A woodsman in training.