The Gandy Dancer Festival

GDF #1 – 2007

The Gandy Dancer Festival began with a phone call from a well-intended rail fan, who wanted to support a major restoration project I had undertaken for the Mid-Continent Railway Historical Society. The caller was Johanna Fabke and she told me she had a crazy idea for a fund raiser; a bluegrass music festival in Madison’s Central Park. The park was then in such rough shape that it in no way mirrored its prestigious namesake in New York City. But it was bordered on two sides by railroad tracks, which were necessary to complete Johann’s crazy idea. She proposed we offer free train rides as a key feature of the festival’s programming. This required the gracious support of Bill Gardner, president of Wisconsin Southern Railroad, who surprisingly (to me) said yes. And thus began my education as a music festival producer.

Johanna and her close friend, Carolyn Hegler, booked all of the acts. She also brought in Bob Queen as a consultant. He is well known in the Madison area for organizing outdoor music events, such as La Fete de Marquette. His expertise proved to be very helpful in identifying the festival’s logistical needs. He is also credited with naming our event the Gandy Dancer Festival; a Gandy Dancer being railroad slang for the section hands who maintained our country’s rail system.

David Michael Miller donated his services as a graphic designer. He created our logo and did the layout work for our promotional materials and tickets. His clever use of a historic image turned section hands into a bluegrass band, effectively merging the historic and musical elements of our program. The real deal took place on August 12, 2007 as planned.  The trains ran. The Jefferson County Band, the Water Street Hotshots, Larry Penn, Round the Bend, Filisko & Noden, the Nob Hill Boys and the Alan Munde Gazette graced our performance stage. There were exhibits, food concessions and other activities for what was supposed to be a one-time event. It wasn’t.

More to follow.