Matt and Megan Binsfeld, a couple of self-described “river rats,” will be this year’s Riverfest commodore and first mate.
The Binsfelds officially were welcomed to the Riverfest family and introduced to the public for the first time Wednesday morning at Shenanigans Entertainment Center & Sports Bar on French Island.
“I’m very honored and humbled to be a part of this group,” said Matt, who is chief operating officer of J.F. Brennan Co., a marine-oriented La Crosse-based company that is a major sponsor of Riverfest.
A lifelong La Crosse resident who graduated from Aquinas High School, Matt said he grew up with strong connections to the river, a bond that continues today.
“Now I work for a business where all we do is river-related work, so it’s very much a part of my life and has always been a part of my life,” he said.
While studying engineering at Marquette University, Matt met Megan, a business administration student who grew up on the river in Peshtigo and had her boat pilot license at age 13. “I’ve been a river rat since the beginning, and when we met it was kind of a natural fit for us,” she said.
At age 40, Matt is the first commodore who has had Riverfest experiences throughout his life.
“I think I’m the first commodore that was born in the ’70s, so I think I’m the first commodore that had the opportunity to experience Riverfest from a young age,” he said.
This year at Riverfest, which runs July 4-7, Matt said he’s especially looking forward to visiting the food court, which in addition to perennial favorites will have some new offerings, including Greek delicacies and fancy nuts from the Nut Shack.
“I’m looking forward to the music. I can’t wait to see all the shows,” Megan said, adding that she’s been listening a lot recently to recordings by the festival headliner, rising country star Chris Lane. “I’m really excited to see him live.”
Lane, who had a No. 1 single on the Billboard Country Airplay chart in 2016 with “Fix,” performs on Thursday, July 5, along with opening acts Jay Allen and the Pat Watters Band. The entertainment on the main stage on Friday, July 6, will be all local bands, including the Dave Rogers Band, Mr. Blink, Gregg Hall and the Wrecking Ball, Red Sky Warning, Smokin’ Bandits, the Adam Palm Band and, capping the evening’s musical entertainment, TUGG.
Boogie and the YoYoz, a popular regional show band, headlines the main-stage entertainment on Saturday, with La Crosse’s own yacht rock band, Slow No Wake, getting things warmed up.
With Riverfest starting on July 4 this year, the Kwik Trip Fireworks Extravaganza happens on the first evening of the festival, with The Remainders rocking on the main-stage before and after the pyrotechnics.
Matt noted that Riverfest annually gives back about $50,000 to community causes, and serving the community looms large for the Binsfelds. Megan serves on the board of directors for the Boys & Girls Clubs of La Crosse, an organization in which Matt also is active. Matt also is involved in the Aquinas Foundation, the Aquinas Schools Finance Committee and Boy Scouts, and he serves on the boards of Trust Point and the Western Dredging Association.
This year’s commodore and first mate have a full crew at home with four daughters: Elyse, Anna, Kate and Madeline, who are 9, 8, 5 and 3 years old, respectively.
Last year’s commodore, Jeff Wieser, was the one who popped the question to Matt about serving this year, and he and his wife, Andrea, have been mentoring the Binsfelds to get them ready for the year ahead. “My best advice for him would be to just have fun,” Wieser said. “It’s a great experience. It’s a wonderful experience.”
The 2016 commodore, Dave Erickson, also shared his advice for the new commodore: “Just be yourself. That’s how you got picked. Don’t change anything you’re doing.”
More details on this year's Riverfest celebration can be found online at riverfestlacrosse.com.