BEMIDJI -- For the 14th consecutive year, the Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers grounds will turn into one big family gathering Friday through Sunday, Aug. 2-4.

The Lake Itasca Family Music Festival will include performers from far and near, with featured bands taking the main stage, plus open stages, children's activities, food, camping and lodging, and a vocal duet contest. It ends on Sunday with a worship service and a guest speaker.

It all started in 2006 when Ken and Becky Berge of Bemidji, whose Berge Family Band had performed at festivals around the country, decided to create a festival of their own.

The Berges of Bemidji started out with performances at local churches and events. The group included daughters Melanie and Mindy. They eventually made a cassette tape of some of their songs, and the tape found its way to a festival organizer in Missouri. The Berges were invited to perform at that festival in the late 1990s.

“We were scared and nervous,” Ken recalls, “but that led to other things and pretty soon we were doing more festivals. We ended up traveling all over the U.S. and Canada, and even overseas. It was kind of an unexpected thing for us.”

Ken said the family aspect of those festivals inspired his own family.

“We had played at a lot of festivals around the country and saw how that worked,” he said, “and since we were a family band we saw how fun that was and how good that was. Most of the struggles that we deal with in our communities and our countries can be traced back to the dysfunction in the family. Broken homes and broken families. We had it in our hearts that if we did a festival we’d make it a family friendly atmosphere and emphasize family.”

While the music performed is a combination of sacred and secular, it has one common theme, according to Berge.

“Our goal is to encourage families,” he said. “We deliberately try to sign up families that are just starting out. The requirement is that they have at least one CD in hand. You get a family that’s just starting out and get them up on the main stage that’s a huge deal for them. Often times these groups we’ve heard them on the open stages, and eventually they end up on the main stage.”

One of those main stage bands this year is The Lindsey Family from Kentucky. Alan and Tammy Lindsey and many of their 10 children and a son-in-law make up the band, which has performed at Silver Dollar City in Branson, Mo., as part of more than 200 concerts a year.

The Lindseys were scheduled to play at last year’s Lake Itasca event, but had to cancel after learning that their son, Michael, was diagnosed with brain cancer. Michael died in October 2018 at the age of 11.



If you go:

What: Lake Itasca Family Music Festival

When: Friday through Sunday, Aug 2-4. Hours are 4-11 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturday and 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday.

Where: Lake Itasca Region Pioneer Farmers grounds adjacent to the north entrance to Itasca State Park.

Cost: $25 weekend pass, $65 family weekend pass, $15 for Friday night only, $20 for Saturday only. Rough camping $10, RV camping $20.

Website: familybluegrass.com