The wonderful Ray Fagen Memorial Airshow last weekend and all the activities that come with Western Fest this weekend certainly make things interesting and lively around these parts. Those big events also draw a lot of people from outside our region and offer them a chance to explore our area.

The Airshow last Saturday drew a huge crowd, not only from neighboring communities but also from neighboring states. I haven’t heard any exact attendance numbers but there were thousands that attended the event and many from as far away as Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, Iowa, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. I visited with folks from suburban Kansas City and a group from southeastern Iowa and they all remarked about the beauty of the Minnesota River valley.

Those folks from the small town of Keota, Iowa, southeast of Des Moines, a seven hour drive from here, asked me how large Granite Falls was, thinking it must be around 12 or 13,000. I almost fell over. No, not quite, I said, it’s just a bit under 3,000. They couldn’t believe it, saying it looks much larger. I told them that Granite wasn’t a big city but it is a bit spread out and does have a lot to offer. They agreed and wondered about our airport and all that’s there as well as the Airshow. As you might guess, had a good long conversation about that.

The Airshow that drew those many thousands here was great entertainment and provided a lot of fun for the huge crowd. It was extremely well organized and very well run. The attention to every detail was amazing and so was the work of the hundreds of volunteers as well as the participants. Airshow announcer Ric Peterson provided great insight into the planes and pilots as well as other fun information that kept things interesting and lively. The stunt flying and the vintage World War II era planes made for a spectacular show and the World War II re-enactors dressed in the vintage GI uniforms and with their vintage jeeps, tents, and other Army or Army Air Force supplies gave an added touch to the whole day.

Also featured at the big event was a terrific two-hour evening concert by Jamey Johnson and the ten other talented musicians in his band. Their music ranged from his own country hits to country standards to songs by Ray Charles, The Band, and 1970s band Little Feat. We were amazed at their wide range of selections and their versatility.

Ron Fagen rewarded Jamey with a fast post-concert twilight flight in the famed P-51 Mustang just before the nighttime Airshow began.

The remarkable nighttime Airshow was a perfect topping for the day and featured the afternoon’s stunt flyers, including the amazing AeroShell aerobatic team’s four planes, flying in tight formation, all brightly lit up. The nighttime show also featured stunt flying by Matt Younkin in his lit-up Twin Beech plane and also Greg Shelton and his wing-walking wife Ashley, standing on the top wing of his biplane in her lit-up flying suit as he did barrel rolls and loop maneuvers. The nighttime show was set to music like “Fly me to the moon” and “Moondance,” it was a fine ending to very fun day.

Much thanks is owed to Ron and Diane Fagen, their sons Aaron and Evan and their families, as well as their dedicated staff and the hundreds of volunteers that, despite the heat and the threat of rain, made the huge event happen so well. Many of us were there all or most of the day. After 11 hours and more than 18,000 steps on my fit bit, I’ll admit that my feet were tired but it was well worth it. It was a unique and very fun day. 

Right on the heels of that great Airshow, comes Western Fest, with plenty more to do this coming weekend. Even if you aren’t familiar with rodeos or haven’t been to one, they are pretty exciting and are always entertaining. Rodeos have been a part of life here since the mid-1950s, and we tend to take it in stride but I’ve heard folks from surrounding towns say that we’re fortunate to have an event like the Stampede Rodeo to build our community celebration around each year.

Anyone involved with a community celebration will tell you that they are hard to launch and a challenge to keep going. They need volunteers by the score and that can be a challenge.

Meanwhile, Western Fest with the rodeo and many other events, keeps rolling along, thanks to a lot of hard work and dozens of volunteers. It’s the best weekend of the year around these parts. Set aside any other plans you might have and go to the rodeo, the big parade and the many other events and activities happening from Wednesday through Saturday this week.