Festival weekend arrives

Vendors at 39th Blueberry/Art Fest set up shop, brace for busy weekend

by Tom Coombe
Wind chimes made their own music and interrupted the silence Thursday at Ely’s Whiteside Park.
As many of the roughly 280 vendors in town for the Blueberry/Art Festival set up shop, the artistry of Bob Hendricks provided more than background noise.
The Forest Lake vendor, who with his wife Lana operates Silverfish ‘N’ Things, has been coming to Ely and the community’s signature event of the summer for about a decade.
Many things keep him coming back.
“We have a lot of return vendors we’ve made friends with,” Hendricks said Thursday, as the park slowly transformed into a tent city for the weekend festival. “It’s kind of fun to all get together. We all do shows but we don’t all do the same shows. It’s fun to run into people you haven’t seen for a year.”
The Blueberry/Art Festival also means business, for Hendricks and the rest of the vendors who will greet thousands over the course of the three-day event, which started Friday morning.
Hendricks makes wind chimes, jewelry and ornaments, as well as fish, out of silver.
“Our big thing is fish,” said Hendricks. “Our fish are probably our first item. We (also)make bracelets and rings and people will start coming in on Friday and Saturday bringing me stuff to look at to see what we can do, especially family silver. Nobody wants to use it.”
Not far form Hendricks, was Jeff Renner, a noted wildlife artist who has become a fixture at the Ely event.
“At least 25 years,” Renner said Thursday when asked about his tenure at the Blueberry/Art event. “It seems like forever.”
Renner has won awards at art shows around the Midwest, and he was busy Thursday hanging an array of wilderness-themed paintings.
Like Hendricks, he has found the Blueberry/Art to be an inviting event.
“There’s always a good crowd,” Renner said. “It’s a very easy set up as you can back right up. Not every show is like that. It’s vendor friendly and I love Ely.”
On the eve of the 39th festival, representatives of the Ely Chamber of Commerce, including director Eva Sebesta and staff member Lana Hietala, were on hand to direct traffic and answer questions.
They’re assisting coordinator Ellen Cashman in the set-up of an event that, in its nearly four decade history has taken on a life of its own.
Started in the early-1980s on an avenue just off of Sheridan Street, the Blueberry/Art Festival quickly evolved into a major attraction, filling lodging establishments in town and in neighboring towns, serving as a mini-reunion for Elyites returning to their hometown, and attracting visitors from many states.
While the arts and crafts may be the prime attraction, many festival patrons come also for the food - and a food court on the west edge of the park promises to be busy throughout the weekend, with the adjacent park pavilion serving as the home for Blueberry pancake breakfasts each morning.
This year’s festival offers something for the first-time visitor as well as those who make their annual treks through the park.
According to Chamber officials, the 2019 event includes 85 new vendors.
The park bandshell is home to music each day and this year’s lineup has old favorites such as Timmy Haus, Bill Maxwell and Cowboy Angel Blue, Pat and Donna Surface, and the Boundary Water Boys.
The festival also promises fun for the entire family, including children’s activities that range from a bungee jump to a bounce house.
Festival hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. on Sunday.