Sunday, October 21, 2018

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Country Jam USA: For 2 longtime attendees, the people are the big draw

Sisters, longtime attendees of the festival, love the music, but the big attraction for them are the people they see year after year

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    Longtime Country Jam USA attendees Evy Casey, left, of Eau Claire and her sister Joie Bjork of Winona, Minn., pose Thursday at the festival grounds off Crescent Avenue west of Eau Claire.

    Staff photo by Elena Dawson
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    Eric Kast of Sparta dances during Sammy Kershaw’s performance on Thursday at the opening day of Country Jam USA west of Eau Claire in the town of Union. Billy Currington headlines tonight on the second day of the three-day festival.

    Staff photo by Elena Dawson
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    Hunter Ellstrom, left, and Max Berger, both of Hudson, pose while waiting in line for the mechanical bull Thursday during opening day of Country Jam USA.

    Staff photo by Elena Dawson
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When Evy Casey talks about Country Jam USA, the Eau Claire resident can get emotional.

Casey’s mother, who died in 2008, brought her daughter to the music festival for the first time in 1995, and Casey, 57, has been a faithful attendee every year since. 

“I was in absolute awe,” Casey, after wiping away some tears, said of her first year at the festival just west of Eau Claire. “The whole entire festival’s camaraderie, listening to people talk about their memories — I wanted that.”

Beside her, Casey’s sister Joie Bjork, 59, of Winona, Minn., patted her sibling’s shoulder.

The duo were among hundreds Thursday afternoon at the first day of this year’s Country Jam. As gray clouds heavy with impending rain hung low in the sky, festgoers donning western hats and boots milled about the grounds and geared up for a weekend of music.

While mentioning excitement for Alabama and Lorrie Morgan, music simply isn’t the draw for Bjork or Casey — the sisters quipped that the music is an “add on” to a weekend that is truly about friendships. Over Bjork’s eight years at the festival and Casey’s 23, they’ve collected cherished friends and “adopted kids” who stop by their camp site to say hello each year.

“We have random people stop at our campsites, and now they call us ‘Mom,’”  Bjork said, smiling.

“When I die, I want my ashes spread all over the campsite,” Casey said with a laugh. “I’m serious. That’s how much Jam means to me.”

Her sister joked they’d first have to check what the regulations are for such a request.

To other festgoers, music does play an important role. This year’s festival includes names such as Blake Shelton, Tracy Lawrence, Jerrod Niemann and Justin Moore.

Kenzie Coldwell and Kayla Wiggins, both 17 and of Eau Claire, threw each other a glance and a grin when asked who they were most excited to see perform.

“Blake Shelton,” they said in tandem.

Alabama was the draw for Angie Hunter, 47, of Spring Valley, who is making her first visit to Country Jam. She was with her husband, Scott, 51, who has attended for four or five years now.

“(I’ve loved Alabama) all my life,” Angie Hunter said of the reason she decided to try out the festival this year. “Then we heard it was their last tour too.”

For Scott Hunter, the reason for his return to Country Jam each year is simple: “Just the country music.”

Contact: 715-830-5828,, @LaurenKFrench on Twitter


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