Redneck Fest bids a fond farewell to its backyard roots

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Sunday, July 4, 2010
— Its exhaust pipes roaring, a neon green 4x4 pickup truck rips through a 2,500-square-foot mud pit. Dirt flies in all directions. Onlookers gathered near a protective fence scream. A video camera gets caked with mud.

A half-block to the south, a rock band tears though a set from a huge stage equipped with risers and lights. A kid rides a mechanical bull. A girl in a bikini falls into a dunk tank, while an Elvis impersonator croons about crawdads from yet another stage.

By the way, this all happened in someone’s backyard—in the 400 block of South Walnut Street, on Janesville’s west side.

“Where else can you have this much stinkin’ fun for free?” Dave Boshela of Janesville shouted over the roar of a mud-spewing truck. His face was spattered with mud.

Boshela was a volunteer on the security detail Saturday at Redneck Fest: part block party, part rock festival, part four-wheel drive jamboree. The festival ran from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, and included food, beer, giveaways and dozens of musical acts and comedians.

Admission was free. Proceeds benefited Easter Seals.

Redneck Fest started in 2007, when a few friends built a mud pit for cars in the backyards along the 400 block of South Walnut Street.

But in the last few years, the event has developed a life all its own, drawing regional media attention and national musical acts. This year, the festival sprouted a beer garden. It now dominates backyards in the entire block.

“It’s a lot of logistics now. It’s like a well-oiled machine,” said Redneck Fest’s founder and promoter, Jack Herndon, a resident at 404 S. Walnut St.

Herndon said to pull off Redneck Fest it took 40 volunteers, scores of sponsors, dozens of committee meetings, and thousands of man-hours.

Still, Herndon and his neighbors kept admission free.

“A lot of people are still out of work,” he said. “I wanted to try to keep things as low cost as I could.”

Performers at Redneck Fest Saturday were impressed with the backyard concourse, a fenced-in area dotted with vendors, tents and stages, even an ambulance and medics. Beer was only allowed on one side of the concourse.

“This is all so laid back. It’s like a backyard block party, only way, way bigger. And better,” said Rich Czebotar, a member of Kenosha area band 3 Left.

Herndon said the festival’s headliner, the Nigel Dupree Band, a national act from Atlanta, Ga., was blown away by the 50-foot main stage at Redneck Fest, which neighbors helped build.

“They pulled up yesterday, and they were like, ‘Holy crap. This is a big stage for somebody’s backyard,’” Herndon said.

To power the venue, neighbors had an electrician tap into power at three homes.

For Herndon and his neighbors, Janesville’s biggest block party will go on next year—but it’ll be moving.

“We already decided this is the last year of Redneck Fest here in the yards. It keeps growing, and we’re just out of space,” Herndon’s wife, Nicki Herndon said.

She said Redneck Fest’s organizers are trying to find a new location for the festival next year, possibly at a rural site near Janesville.

Saturday’s festival may have been the event’s last stand on South Walnut Street, but for Janesville resident Tim Raiche, the block party was something new. He and his family were first-time rednecks.

“I came here with an open mind, just curious to see the whole event,” Raiche said. “I can tell already, this is something I’m glad I didn’t miss.”

On the main stage, a band broke into an a cappella rendition of the refrain from Sublime’s “What I got.”

“Lovin’ is what I got, I said remember that…”

Almost like Woodstock, only with 4x4s.

Last updated: 2:26 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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