Puckerbrush Days 2018: A Forest City Institution
BY CONRAD BASCOM
LAKE MILLS GRAPHIC
Puckerbrush Days has been a Forest City institution since before it was even dubbed Puckerbrush Days in 1986. Prior to the name change, the street fair was known as Frontier Days—and the festivities commenced a little closer to the summer solstice in June. Of course, this was before Winnebago requested that the Chamber of Commerce and the organizers move the festival to the weekend before the WIT Rally—as tradition now dictates—so as to provide the aimless coterie of Winnebago-riders that arrive a week prematurely with a bit of entertainment.
What in the world is a puckerbrush, you say? Well, it’s precisely what it sounds like: a dense bush with sour berries native to northern Iowa—eat its bitter fruit and you’re bound to pucker. In years past, the Puckerbrush Days logo was a bit of wordplay: a graffiti-esque pair of voluptuous lips perched over a cyan paint brush. The planning committee finally decided to modernize the logo and switch to a minimalistic symbol that is slightly more representative of the original inspiration for the name a few years ago—one of a few transitions brought about by the infusion of some younger blood in the planning process. But Puckerbrush is more than a less-than-taxonomical name for a local shrub; it is a good time to be had by all.
Puckerbrush Days has evolved through the years, survived at least one name change, and unequivocally grown—when I sat in at a volunteer meeting in the Chamber of Commerce, July 11, no one present was able to give me a complete rundown of the festival’s history prior to 1986 (when the fest became its modern iteration). But one through line has become apparent since the Puckerbrush/ Frontier Days of yore: the street fair’s collaborative and communal nature. For as long as people can remember, the festival has been a collaboration between and a showcase for many of Forest City’s local businesses. As Chairperson Scott Meinders put it, “Local businesses have shown immense support for the event. Local businesses and all the volunteers—Boy Scouts, Fire Dept., the people you see here today. That’s what it’s all about.”
The Battle of the Businesses has become a classic, crowd-favorite event since the first in 2006. To use Meinder’s coinage, the Battle of the Businesses are “wacky games” that showcase employees of local businesses in competition with each other. And Scott Meinders knows a thing or two about “wacky games,” as his entrance into involvement with Puckerbrush Days started four years ago when he headed up the mud volleyball game. Make sure to go to the Battle of the Businesses, Friday, July 20, at 6:30 p.m. to see some familiar smiling faces from around Forest City in the midst of heated slapstick competition.
A cursory glance at the schedule of events for Puckerbrush Days 2018 points at some of the changes brought about by this younger planning committee than years prior. Kevin Mason, one of the more recent additions to the planning committee, described their inspiration to join as such: “Four years ago, we (Marissa and Kevin Mason; Signe and Scott Meinders) were at the Battle of the Businesses and we thought, ‘This could be way cooler.’ There was no live entertainment at night, no beer garden—there wasn’t any of that kind of stuff that you would expect to see at a small town festival. We went to the Battle, and then we ended up just going back to my house and hanging out. We all talked about it and felt like we should just get involved.”
Though the beginning of their period of influence in the Planning Committee was admittedly a little contentious—as some older committee members were reluctant to cede control and see the past transformed—the Meinders and the Masons have undoubtedly succeeded in revamping Puckerbrush Days. One of their first decisions was to make all of the affiliated events free and open to the public; a decision I believe should be applauded in a small town that is, frankly, starved for this kind of entertainment.
Over the past three years, this new Planning Committee has been able to attract a variety of live bands to perform on the K St. Stage, which conveniently sits next to the Downtown Beer Garden on N. Clark St. (another one of the Planning Committee’s pet projects). This year, headliners Pianopalooza (Des Moines) and Farm Rock (North Central Iowa) will be playing on Friday and Saturday night, respectively.
The partnership between the Chamber of Commerce, Executive Director Kathy Rollefson, and the young professionals of Forest City that were inspired to get involved, has resulted in a street fair with more verve and flash than past iterations. The changes they’ve made are canny ones. If a young person comes through town during Puckerbrush Days 2018, they might just be convinced that living in a small town is not all that bad—that a town like Forest City can actually be an attractive place for a young person to move. The young person might realize that small towns can actually provide MORE opportunities for young people than big cities—people like the Meinders and the Masons would have had a much more difficult time getting involved in a festival like Puckerbrush Days in a major metropolitan area. But here in Forest City, they were able to transform a local institution for the better. The young person might just look around at all the things going on in this miniature city of 4,000 and be impressed by the possibilities.
Puckerbrush Days 2018 begins with the Farmer’s Market on N. Clark St., Thursday, July 19, at 3 p.m. and ends with a matinee of Brick Street Theater companies “Pirates of Penzance” on Sunday, July 22, in the FCHS auditorium. Most activities occur around or near to the courthouse in Forest City.