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Haggard Brothers to headline Beef Days July 19

Manternach caps two decades of booking with country royalty
Dean Manternach has been coordinating the musical acts for Beef Days for 20 years. The Haggard Brothers - Ben and Noel - are the biggest names ever to take the stage at the free community festival (photo by Doug Lindner)

SOLON– Having the Haggard Brothers perform Friday night, July 19, is next-level stuff for Beef Days.
Ben and Noel, sons of country music icon Merle Haggard, have teamed together to tour the country and will take the stage at Beef Days at 9:30 p.m. for a 90-minute tribute to their father’s music.
“It’s going to be cool,” exuded Beef Days Entertainment Chair Dean Manternach. “It’s going to be really great.”
He’s expecting a standing-room-only crowd for the biggest name ever booked for the two-day free community festival.
Manternach has been coordinating the musical acts for Beef Days for 20 years now, ever since his days as a bass player in the regionally popular band Morning After.
The band was recruited for Beef Days and it was a big deal for Manternach, the biggest venue he’d ever played.
“It was pretty neat,” he recalled.
When Jane Vest stepped down as entertainment coordinator, someone suggested Manternach, a resident of Solon since 1987.
“It wasn’t something I’d ever done before, but I sure like to see live music,” he said.
Back in those days, the budget for performers was $1,800 for two bands, he said, with half that spent renting a public address (PA) system. Eventually, organizers invested in a house PA, cutting down on teardown and setup time between bands and reducing the equipment performers needed to bring.
He scouts festivals and regional big bars for bands with the ability to harmonize, featuring a lot of different vocal styles.
This year’s other featured band Gimikk impressed Manternach when he saw them at The Chrome Horse in Cedar Rapids.
Bands are also recommended through word of mouth, from people who’ve been on RAGBRAI or seen an act in another venue.
With the Internet, they’re all just a search away for Manternach.
And that’s essentially what happened with the Haggard Brothers.
Over the years, as Beef Days’ popularity increased, the headline performers include more polished, regional tribute bands.
It all started when a local businessperson asked Manternach if Beef Days would be interested in Double Trouble, a pair of Elvis impersonators out of Arkansas coming off a win at an Elvis contest at the Mall of America.
It was more expensive, but Manternach ran it by the Beef Days Committee, which was supportive.
Because Beef Days has always been a free event, the committee was forced to seek additional sponsors to cover the increased costs.
Double Trouble was a hit, and the following years brought tributes to Rod Stewart, Steely Dan, The Eagles and Chicago, often with repeat performances.
“Always full crowds,” Manternach said. “People loved that sort of thing.”
Over the last 20 years, he’s always tried to book a variety of acts, mixing bluegrass in with country and rock.
“There’s all kinds of different people here, it’s kind of hard to keep them all happy,” he noted.
But after the 2018 Beef Days concluded, someone informed him Ben Haggard was touring.
“There’s a lot of Merle Haggard fans here in town,” Manternach said.
One of them is Mayor Steve Stange, who regularly attends the country gigs at Beef Days and always asks Manternach if the band knows a Merle song.
“Ten times out of 10, my country band knows a Merle song,” he said. “Last year, I even had a rock and roll band play a Merle song. They said, ‘Hell, yeah, we can do a Merle song,’”
Ben Haggard was set to perform at Wooly’s in Des Moines, but it was a Thursday night, and Manternach couldn’t get away.
So, he went home that night, hopped on the web and checked out Ben’s tour dates.
“There were three nights listed for 2019, and one of them was July 20, Franklin County Fair in Hampton, Iowa, believe it or not,” he said. “They’re in Iowa the weekend our Beef Days is.
“I’m like are you kidding me?” he said. “We’re looking for a country band for Friday night, and they’re already booked for Saturday night 130 miles from here.”
The contact number was a national talent agency– the big time– but he tried it anyway.
Eventually, he talked to Ben’s agent, and they discussed the show.
It’s a tribute to Merle Haggard with some of Ben’s originals thrown in. Ben has been playing with his dad’s band since he was 16, and he has the “Haggard voice.”
But Beef Days doesn’t really need big acts, just good music. Year after year, it sets records with the bands it books.
“It was pretty pricey, so it wasn’t going to happen,” Manternach said. “We were small town and no gate.”
The talent company called back in January. They really wanted to fill that Friday night slot.
“That turned it all back to well, maybe,” he said. “Still more than we’ve ever paid for a show, but not out of range.”
He talked to the committee members, and they were on board to check it out further.
There was a lot to figure out, including whether Beef Days could technically put on the show and meet specific electrical requirements. Because it’s a fly-in date, Beef Days had to arrange the backline (drums and amps) equipment for the band.
Manternach took a photo of the Main Street stage and sent it to Haggard’s representatives for approval. It barely met the requirements for width.
“Now we’re getting the road manager involved, this is pretty fun for me,” he said. “I’m dealing with big-time people.”
The talent agency gave him a list for things Beef Days needed to provide and Manternach handed it off to his sound guy.
“Our sound company, RGS Productions out of Cedar Rapids, absolutely met the demands for us,” he said.
The Haggards were OK with the 9:30 p.m. time slot after the hay bale toss and after several months of negotiating, they sealed the deal at the end of May.
“It was back and forth a little bit and we got it,” he said.
Funding was a big hurdle, he noted, but Big Grove Brewery and 7G Distributing stepped up to sponsor the stage.
“So that’s what it takes, community effort,” he observed. “The sponsors are really what pays for a lot of our entertainment, because we don’t have a gate.”
Security will be enhanced for the performance. People will be kept off the stage stairway.
Once the deal was inked, Manternach was finally able to check The Haggard Brothers out live at an end-of-May festival in Kansas City.
“Everything I expected,” he reported. “Clear vocals, awesome guitar. It’ll be a show you remember here in Solon for sure.”
You might have to stand, but you won’t have to pay for it thanks to Beef Days’ sponsors.
“I like the idea that it’s all free. Beef Days gives back to the community,” he said. “This is like giving everyone a ticket. We’re giving back on the spot. Don’t need to spend a penny to see it.”