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The Fair Hills Hootenanny

Members of the Fair Hills staff participate in the 1979 Hootenanny. The tradition continues today, and the resort is celebrating 50 years of the popular production this summer. SUBMITTED PHOTO

With music, singing, dancing, acting and a long history of family fun, one area event is celebrating a big milestone this summer.

The Hootenanny at Fair Hills Resort on Pelican Lake is celebrating its 50th year in production this summer. Director Larry Swenson said that a musical selection which crosses generations, enthusiastic performances by resort staff and a long tradition of fun make this one event not to be missed.

Over its half-century run, Hootenanny performers have played, sang and danced to music that spans from Bob Dylan to High School Musical. There have been instrumental bands, ukulele accompaniment and a long-running barbershop quartet, just to name a few of the acts that have graced the Fair Hills stage.

“You have to see it to understand,” Swenson said about the show, adding that they use a mixture of old favorites and new tunes to make for a one-of-a-kind experience.

Every year the show has something new to offer audiences, keeping things fresh for the resort’s many repeat guests. However, Swenson said, they also have traditional favorites which are a part of the program every year.

Always beginning with a sing-along, guests who have stayed at the resort for multiple years can sing some of the songs by heart. One song features the resort’s phone number, and Swenson said that after hearing it a few times, guests “never have to look it up.”

When the show began back in the 1960s, it had a very different feel, taking place outside with guests sitting on hay bales.

Now, the hay bales are gone, and guests enjoy the show with the help of the latest technology.

“The show has really modernized,” Swenson said, adding that they brought in new microphones and lighting equipment to make sure guests have the best experience possible.

“It’s gradually evolved to bigger and better productions,” said Dave Kaldahl, who was the third generation of his family to own and operate Fair Hills Resort. His daughter, Beth Schupp has carried on the tradition as the current general manager.

Kaldahl, who grew up at the resort, has been a part of the Hootenanny since its first performances, and said they’ve seen many changes over the years.

Swenson estimates that about 60 staff currently take place in each show, a number which has grown from less than 20 in the show’s first year. He also figures that during the Hootenanny’s history, more than 2,800 different staff members have graced the stage.

They also see many guests and community members return year after year for dinner and a show. Swenson said that the show provides something to entertain everyone, adding that “it’s really a family show.”

But the Hootenanny isn’t just a favorite with the guests. The show is put on entirely by resort workers, with everyone from the office staff to the grounds crew getting in on the act.

“Some have never been on the stage,” Kaldahl said, adding that for many there is a lot of learning to be done about the nuances of live performance.

Fair Hills staff comes from a diverse background, with many different nationalities represented.

Swenson said that staff members from 13 different countries will take part in the show this year. 

Many of their workers are university students who only stay for a summer or two, but some stay for much longer. Swenson said that he’s been involved with Fair Hills for 30 years, and still enjoys performing in the Hootenanny every summer

Working on the show provides staff with a sense of teamwork and a cooperative spirit around the resort. Kaldahl added that “it’s a team effort,” and that it’s all worth it when the crowd leaves happy.

“Everyone responds to the applause,” he said.

For their fiftieth year in production, Swenson said that they’ll see some familiar faces coming back to the Hootenanny stage.

Previous staff and performers will be returning for shows throughout the summer, making new memories to add to the ones made during the years they spent working at Fair Hills.

Many longtime friendships have sprung up between resort staffers, and more than a few “Fair Hills romances,” as Kaldahl calls them.

Some of these relationships, though, go beyond a casual summer fling, and Kaldahl said both his daughter and granddaughter have gone on to marry people they met through their time at the resort.

The show kicked off for the summer on June 17, and will run every Tuesday night throughout the summer.

A smorgasbord dinner is served from 5:30 to 7 p.m. followed by the Hootenanny at 8 in the pavilion.

Reservations for dinner and the show can be made by calling the resort at 800-323-2849.

More information on the show and ticket pricing can be found on the resort’s website.