When the Rotary Club of St. Cloud started a free weekly summer music festival in 2011, everyone thought it would be a great event that promoted community. Still, no one expected it to be as successful as it has been. After postponing the concert series for a year due to the global pandemic, this summer marks the 10th anniversary of Summertime by George!
The decision to postpone the 10th anniversary celebration was difficult for the Rotary Club to make, said John Bodette, current Rotary Club President. The group wanted to make sure the event was not only safe but also had the Summertime by George! vibe that the community has come to expect since that first concert in 2011.
“We had no clue as to how many people would come to this thing,” said Rotarian Dave Tripp. “We thought if that first night we could get 500 people to come, that’d be great.”
We had no clue as to how many people would come to this thing. We thought if that first night we could get 500 people to come, that’d be great.
From the beginning, the festival outperformed expectations. That first night 2,000 people came to watch the Killer Hayseeds perform at the newly renovated Eastman Park, which overlooked Lake George and downtown St. Cloud.
More than 45,000 attended the first season. Now, the community event brings, on average, more than 10,000 people to the park on a Wednesday night in the summer, and is expected to pass one million in total attendance this year.
“For many people, Wednesday nights have become known as Summertime by George! night,” Tripp said.
While the concert series has gained popularity, similar to that first year, the Rotary Club is not sure how many people to expect at the concerts this summer.
“How many people are going to be there? I’ve heard all kinds of answers,” Bodette said. “On one hand, people say, well, you know, some people are still going to feel uncomfortable about it. And on the other hand, people say, everybody will want to come because they just want to get out and do something.”
As the event has grown over the years, Rotary has worked hard behind the scenes to keep the event running smoothly. Last year the club had to make the difficult decision to postpone the concert series and wait a year to celebrate 10 seasons. Now, as they plan for this year’s event, one of their top priorities is for people to feel safe and comfortable attending.
One of the big updates will be the Vaccination Clinic, set up in partnership with CentraCare and Stearns County Public Health. The clinic will be offering vaccines from 4-7 p.m. for the first six weeks of the concert series, June 23-July 28. This year’s event will also include additional toilets, hand-washing stations, and five sanitation stations throughout the park.
“We hope people will be smart,” said Bodette. “We hope it’s a real strong signal by having a vaccine clinic that we really want this to be a safe event for people.”
This year, more than ever, will be very a special moment when people get together in whatever way they want to do it.
“This year, more than ever, will be very a special moment when people get together in whatever way they want to do it,” Bodette added. “There may not be handshakes or hugs, but just being in the same place in the park will be a nice reminder that we’re here. We made it.”