A long-standing tradition in New Lisbon has brought community members together for a weekend of celebration during the days of Wa Du Shuda.
Nearly 9,000 people took to the streets on Friday and Saturday July 8 and 9 for the annual Wa Du Shuda Days festival. The event, held at Riverside Park, kicked off Friday with food stalls, live music and a cornhole tournament, among other things. Saturday’s festivities included a half marathon, parade and craft show, with bouncy houses, a rock wall and free face painting offered in the park.
“When you have a day like today and you get sunshine like this, it’s pretty hard not to have a great day,” said festival co-chair Rick Barrett.
The event, Barrett added, places a strong emphasis on conviviality and respect for heritage. The latter of the two is reflected in its name: Wa Du Shuda is a nod to the New Lisbon area’s Ho-Chunk heritage, a phrase meaning “rest your canoe here.”
In more than 30 years of existence, the festival has undergone many changes. It started, Barrett said, as a one-day get-together with beer and chicken. Now, with its range of food, music and game tents, it has become almost unrecognizable since its inception.
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“It’s become a pretty big event,” Barrett said.
Planning for Wa Du Shuda Days begins in January each year, with organizers meeting regularly to plan things like entertainment, food, and other offerings. According to festival treasurer Jenny Kochie, starting months in advance allows her and the rest of the team to take their time and get things in order.
“We pretty much keep everything the same every year,” Kochie said. “That way it’s easier for us and we just have better control over next year.”
Barrett added that the hardest part of planning a festival of this scale seems to be the music, for which bookings start even before January.
“Booking our groups is one of our biggest issues,” Barrett said. “By tomorrow night, we’ll probably have our groups booked for next year.”
In an older incarnation, the event lasted three days and a fee was charged for admission to the park. After being put on hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, Kochie said organizers have changed things up for the event’s return in 2021, making things last two days and waiving admission fees with help. from local sponsors. Although the event appears to be back in full swing, Kochie says the free entry is something she wants to continue offering.
“We hope to continue (having free entry) for years to come here,” Kochie said.
The festival, Barrett and Kochie noted, may have been bolstered by the isolating qualities of the pandemic, prompting more people to seek out a community where they could find it.
“I didn’t notice that that put anyone off coming,” Kochie said.
“The very first year we came back, they were excited,” Barrett added. “They were all ready to come back. They just wanted to be with people.