Imagine going to the debut of the new Country Boom music festival in mid-July and hearing Blake Shelton, Garth Brooks, Brad Paisley and Eric Church.OK, now put that out of your mind. What were you thinking?

This is a first-year country music festival that didn’t even get a permit from the county until late September. Guys like Blake, Garth, Brad and Eric usually have their summer music festival dance cards booked close to a year in advance.

Even if Blake Shelton had the weekend of July 13-14 free, he couldn’t come to Country Boom because it’s too close to the Eau Claire area Country Jam festival at which he will perform the following weekend. These kinds of festivals have a contractual clauses that rule out performing within, say, 150 miles within a set period of time. That means Alabama, Billy Currington, Justin Moore, Dustin Lynch, Clay Walker, Craig Morgan and LoCash all are probably not coming to Country Boom because they are playing at Country Jam, too.

Country Fest in Cadott is set for three weekends before Country Boom, and it has headliners including Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley, Brantley Gilbert, Dwight Yoakam, Jake Owen, Luke Combs, Brett Eldredge, Kip Moore and Kane Brown. There’s a good chance these guys would be restricted by a “radius clause,” too.

Jon Holthaus


Make no mistake, Country Boom mastermind Jon Holthaus is intent on bringing top-notch talent to what he hopes will be the music event of the year in our neck of the woods, drawing as many as 30,000 people. He has hired a well-connected Nashville-based promoter to book the talent, and he is close to being able to announce the performers.

Agonizingly close.

He has been close for a while, but it’s a moving target. Holthaus could have an announcement as soon as next week, or there could be a snag that will delay the reveal again.

Holthaus is a Fennimore, Wis., native, a financial adviser who has lived in the La Crosse area for about a dozen years. A music festival fan, he got to thinking that it just wasn’t right that the La Crosse area didn’t have a summer music festival where people could spend a weekend camping and enjoying great music.

He found a silent partner and started looking around for someplace that would work to hold the event. He found the former Maple Grove Country Club, a beautifully landscaped golf course and with a large building that could see a wide variety of fest-related uses. It’s a site bigger than the one used for the Woodstock concert, but Maple Grove has a lot more lovely shade trees.

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“I needed shade because of my skin tone,” said Holthaus, a fair-complected ginger, during a chat on Thursday.

Holthaus originally wanted to have the Country Boom website live and tickets going on sale in time for Black Friday, and he understands the frustration of country music fans who were over the moon when word came out in September about the fledgling festival. He doesn’t blame people for being skeptical, and he’s not withholding information to be cruel.

“If we had everything concreted, we would let you know,” Holthaus said. If Country Boom has the kind of launch he’s hoping for, he added, “this will never be an issue again. … If we get the support this year as far as attendance goes, we can get whoever we want.”

The Country Boom Facebook page last September had about 220 comments (not counting replies) when Holthaus asked fans who they wanted to see perform at Country Boom. Not all of them were serious comments — one asked for the late, great Keith Whitley — and it was obvious that two local bands, the Pat Watters Band and Burnin’ Whiskey, have strong followings who want to see them be a part of Country Boom.

The only hint Holthaus would give on what talent we can expect at Country Boom is that it will feature at least one of the artists suggested in the Facebook posts — I tried every trick I know (short of the comfy chair torture technique), but I just couldn’t get him to crack.

But he did fill me in on some other details about the festival that made me think this actually will be a really cool affair. The event is going to have VIP reserved seats, as many as 4,000 of them, and people will be able to pick their spots when they buy their tickets and keep those spots for both days. People also will be able to pick out specific camping spots in advance.

There will be six main stage acts each day, with music also being performed on a side stage and in the beer tent. And festival guests will be issued wristbands with RFID chips that will make buying beverages and food easier and will help the festival track sales and ensure waits are minimized and nothing ever runs out. “Most first-year festivals don’t do this,” Holthaus said.

So yeah, we might not be getting the biggest giants in country music for this year’s festival, and that’s probably an unreasonable expectation to have. As Holthaus sees it, music isn’t the only thing that goes into putting on a great festival.

“It’s everything that goes along with it that adds to the overall experience,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want this to be an Oktoberfest experience in the summertime.”

Rock on …


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(13) comments


We live within a mile of the venue and the valley amplifies noise so we will go north to our cabin for the duration. The desire to flee increased at the idea of country music.


haters quit hating, I don't even like country music, I might go see this just because it might be cool at that venue. I'm in, thanks


It’s understandable that a first year music festival would struggle to get a big national acts and if the ticket price does not align with the quality of the acts the festival will likely flop.

Consider though that putting together a lineup of cutting edge new acts with an established headliner each night of the type that can no longer draw enough fans to fill an entire arena can work. I saw Bob Jovi at Summerfest at one of the ground stages in 1985. They were a cutting edge band back then and for many years have been headliners. I’ve seen many bands at the ground stages there develop into headliners. A lineup including bands of the country equivalent of the cutting edge band that was Bon Jovi of 1985 are the kind of bands that would build a strong lineup. That along with one anchor band to headline each night could draw a lot of fans. Best of luck and I hope it works out.

Buggs Raplin

Dream On. No name acts; no big attendance


rock n roll


It's a dud cause it's country music.

Buggs Raplin

Randy, if there aren't going to be any big names at this West Salem thing, why go? And that will be the bottom line as to attendance.

You have a point. The lineup for the first Country Jam held in 1990 included Alan Jackson, Charley Pride, Clint Black, Eddie Rabbit, Glen Campbell, Lorrie Morgan, Patti Loveless, Ricky Skaggs, Rodney Crowell, sawyer Brown, Tammy Wynette, Vince Gill, Shenandoah, Desert Rose Band and more. So that kind of shows you can get a good lineup for a first-year fest. Maybe there were fewer festivals and less competition back then, though.

I think you go this year because supporting it will help ensure that next year there are more big names. They're trying to figure out a way to have an incentive to be first-year ticket buyers. You go this year out of curiosity, too. And it still could be a lot of fun without megastars (I would hope there would at least be some mini-stars).

Buggs Raplin

Nice try Randy. Without any name acts, this will be a super dud.

Dang, you're probably right. I don't know how I can be so irrationally optimistic after all these years as a journalist. I should be a lot more jaded.


Like I have said before, I have worked at Country Jam in Eau Claire for many years. Please don't make it so expensive as they have. Last time I served beer for them it was 2 silos for 10 tickets and the tickets were a dollar a piece. Camping was very expensive too. Pop and water were 2 tickets....so you get the picture. Everyone hated the silos by the way.

Jon Holthaus did mention to me that this will be a much more affordable experience than Country Jam/Country Fest. He didn't get into the details, of course, but I do think they are aware of that concern.

El Duderino

I admire your desire, and apparently, ability to put something like this together.

The RFID chip idea completely eliminates any chance I’d ever attend, just to be honest.

Also, all those bands you mentioned are pop-“country”. Have you considered bringing in some genuine country music like Whitey Morgan, Cody Jinks, Whiskey Myers, Uncle Lucious, etc.?

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