The annual Looney Daze festival in Vergas, Minnesota is a hub for wacky celebrations and family traditions.
VERGAS, MINNESOTA IS HOME TO THE WORLD'S LARGEST LOON. PHOTO BY VALERIE TURGEON.
Small Minnesota towns come alive in the summer. It seems there’s no shortage of parties and festivals that include streets lined with the sweet smell of mini donuts and fried goodies, local handmade wares, games, and fireworks. I bet you have one particular town celebration that comes to mind. For me, this party occurs in Vergas, Minnesota (no, not Vegas).
Vergas, just 15 miles south of Detroit Lakes, has been put on the map as home to the world’s largest loon statue at 20 feet tall. With the loon being Minnesota’s state bird, it’s kind of a big deal—at least, as a kid I was star struck when walking by on the way to build a sandcastle at the neighboring beach. It’s not hard to believe that this giant bird is also the most popular spot to snap family photos.
On a typical day, Vergas is fairly quiet except for the rumbling pick-up trucks hauling tractors, and motorcycles that stop at the town’s bar, Billy’s. You can also hear the beach goers near the Loon statute and vacationing families slurping down ice cream cones at the Eagle’s Nest, a walk-up eatery that is still known to many as Big Jim’s.
Thanks to Vergas’ record-setting statue, it was easy for the town to create a name for its biggest event: Looney Daze, which occurs every year during the second weekend of August. It’s a multiple day extravaganza that’s memorialized with wacky tees. This year’s shirt depicts a slew of loon characters sitting outside of the “Looney Bin,” and one charismatic loon trying to escape. These shirts accurately capture the light-hearted spirit of Vergas where they know how to have fun. (In 2012, the town added a new celebration, the Redneck Holidazzle, showcasing a parade with floats made of fresh deer hides.)
This year's Looney Daze t-shirt. Photo courtesy of the festival's Facebook page.
The events of Looney Daze are similar to a standard festival—there’s the Miss. Vergas pageant, a parade, rummage sales, a 5K race, scavenger and loon egg hunts, Bingo (I once won $40), a beer garden, and a rowdy street dance. Then there are the more unusual festivities such as the water fights and loon calling contest. I once practiced for months with plans to enter the contest, and got so good that loons would respond to my calls, but I chickened (looned?) out at the last minute.
Vergas is a quintessential Minnesota lakeside destination, but when you have family that live, or own a cabin, in a town such as this, it transforms into your town. Vergas is where I received my most prominent scar from taking too sharp of a turn running around my dad’s big blue Dodge Ram. I slid across the gravel, but was later cheered up by going with my mom and aunt to my favorite store on Main Street, the Attic Shop, where there was never a shortage of Beanie Babies.
And on Sybil Lake, my uncle and aunt would host memorable meals they made in their “love shack,” a humble home just big enough to fit a bed, fridge, counter, and small dining nook. It was here, sitting near the dock, that the whole family would get together around food and a bonfire as the night cooled down and the stars made their grand entrance.
Coming from a modest family, it wasn’t until later in life when I had the opportunity to travel to more exotic places over seas. So, throughout my childhood, a forthcoming visit with grandma and grandpa in Vergas was enough to get me excited. After the three hour trip and a stop at Treasure City in Royalton, I couldn’t wait for the moment we would drive down the dirt road to see my grandparents sitting on their screened-in porch waiting on our arrival.
Just as much as the people, the town of Vergas is family. I haven't visited for several years, but Looney Daze never stops. Every August I am reminded of the traditions and I think about those silly t-shirts and the friendly smiles. I think of family dinners, blowing bubbles with my aunt, and eating watermelon with my grandpa while admiring hummingbirds graze by the feeder. And I’m inspired to practice loon calls once again—in private.
August 10-14, 2016
Schedule of events