Another Rochesterfest is in the history books and thank you to the wild amount of volunteers that make Rochesterfest happen each year. There is one paid position, and the rest are volunteers. From the board down to the people putting together the events.

Rochesterfest Facebook Page
Rochesterfest Facebook Page

The people putting on Rochesterfest work incredibly hard to bring it all together so there's something for everyone to enjoy. From toddlers to 105.3-year-olds. We appreciate you and we're sorry that you so often hear criticism instead of thanks.

This is not a story meant to tear down, but to ask some serious questions and put together answers from the everyday Rochester, Minnesota residents and people that have been there, in the trenches, doing the work of Rochesterfest.

Why Does Rochester Minnesota Have Rochesterfest?

Former Mayor, Chuck Hazama (Credit: Brent Ackerman)
Former Mayor, Chuck Hazama (Credit: Brent Ackerman)

Judy Hickey, 2nd term President, Rochesterfest Board of Directors and 15-year volunteer with the festival, filled me in on the history of Rochesterfest. "The purpose of Rochesterfest is to celebrate the arts, culture, and people of our community."

"Rochesterfest began in 1983 as a city-wide celebration called “Celebration of a City” to commemorate Rochester’s 125th anniversary. After the success of that first festival, Mayor Chuck Hazama and other city leaders decided that the festival should become an annual event and Rochesterfest was born."

Right now the board of directors is wrapping up the final details and numbers of the 2022 festival, and then, they'll start right in on planning for 2023.

Is It Time to Rethink Rochesterfest?

Two children eating pizza at Rochesterfest 2018
One of the greatest Rochestefest photos ever. James Rabe (TSM-R)

This question came to me after watching the KIMT news story about Rochesterfest's dip in attendance.

"ROCHESTER, Minn.- Rochesterfest 2022 wrapped up over the weekend with a big dip in attendance for the event this year.

Executive director Stephen Rose says attendance numbers were actually the lowest they have been in years. Rose thinks a couple of factors led to Rochesterfest's low attendance, the biggest being inflation." (SOURCE)

So...if you could change Rochesterfest in some way, shape, or form, what would you do to increase attendance?

I reached out to "the people" in general, and two former directors of the Celebration of the City. While they have different thoughts and ideas, it's clear they all have a similar message, Rochesterfest is a great community event that can be even better.

Brent Ackerman

Brent Ackerman
Brent Ackerman

Former Rochesterfest Director and current member of the Rochesterfest Board, Ackerman spent four years at the helm, taking over after Carole Brown retired following 24 years as the sole paid employee of Rochesterfest.

James Rabe - Brent, how do you respond to people that say, "They don't have events I like."?

Brent Ackerman - So if you have an (idea for an) event that you wanna bring before the board, please do. Especially if you say, I even have some volunteers and we could do this, and I plan to do this. All we ask is that it takes people to put on an event and you can't just say I want this now go deliver it to me.

The way that it works is if you have an event and you're passionate about it, then get involved, share that idea, that vision, and then tell us how you want to be a part of it. Anybody that wants to get into it and maybe add some things to it or, or change a few things up, get involved, let us know. We'd love to have you!

JR - So if the question is, "Is it time to rethink Rochester Fest? For you, it's more like, "Is it time to rethink how people get involved in it."

BA - Exactly. 100%, because we can't do this with just five or six people to put on an event. Like this takes a ton of planning, a ton of volunteers in some cases, money.

JR - What about the idea of cutting it down to a Friday, Saturday, Sunday, or a Thursday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday kind of thing?

BA - I think anything's on the table. I think we just appreciate any input. If people have ideas, we're open to everybody's input.

Brandon Helgeson


Helgeson spent the two years of Covid as Rochesterfest Director.

James Rabe - Is it time to rethink Rochesterfest?

Brandon Helgeson - It's always time to rethink stuff. In my opinion, you always have to be looking at how can you do things differently. How can you add something in new that doesn't mean you have to completely go away from what your roots or your tradition is, but you have to be mindful of the fact that your demographic is changing.

What baby boomers wanted is not the same thing as what millennials want so on, so forth. So you, you really have to be kind of evaluating that and looking at what you can do to keep things fresh and to keep things new while staying true to your brand, for lack of a better term.

JR - Would that be something like shortening it to a Friday, Saturday, Sunday event,

BH - If it's something where you're not seeing consistently strong numbers every night of the week, then you should absolutely look at shorting it, it would trim costs, it would allow you to put more punch into the days that you do have. So that's definitely something that's worth consideration, but, you know, I think more so you need to look at what your offerings are, you know, are you offering things that are relevant to the market? That's actually gonna come out for an event?

JR - How do you figure that out with Rochesterfest? Because there is such a wide potential audience from so many different demographics.

BH - Well, you're never gonna hit all of them. You're never gonna please everybody. That's just never gonna happen. But what you can do is you can look at those different demographics, different age groups, different ethnicities and say, all right, what is an experience for them? People are looking not just for an event they're looking for an experience. So what's gonna make them walk away saying, wow, that was really cool.

What Do "The People" Say?

Rochester Speaks - If you could change Rochesterfest, what would you do?

On Spotted In Rochester, I asked how people would change Rochesterfest.

Last I checked there were 356 comments, a topic people like to talk about. These 15 comments were selected as representatives of the majority of ideas, opinions.

As always, if you have a comment, complaint, or concern about something I wrote here, please let me know:


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