Cranberry Crazies Pack Warrens for the Tiny Town’s Giant Fest

By Salina Heller

September 22, 2023

The annual Cranberry Fest isn’t only about the 1,200 vendor booths, three days of shopping, and hundreds of cran-filled foods. It’s the 140,000 visitors that make the event what it is.

I’ve told my family that no one can get married, give birth, or die that weekend because I will put them on ice and deal with it when I get back from Wisconsin!” Rhonda Taylor laughed as she explained the “seriousness” of her annual trip to the Warrens Cranberry Festival.

An Iowa resident, Taylor first visited  Warrens 22 falls ago with two friends on a charter bus trip. “The bus trip was AWFUL, but we fell in love with the Cranberry Festival, and we have yet to miss a year since!”

Taylor’s group is now up to 16, who travel from Iowa, Missouri, California, and once, Sweden to the tiny central Wisconsin village of 353.

A Tradition Unlike Any Other

Laughter billows from the group’s rented cabin as Taylor and her travel companions empty their bags of treasures and pull out coveted trophies, readying for the Friday show-and-tell. The group came up with a fun game, awarding first, second, and third place trophies to whoever gets the most votes for making the “best purchase.”

We have so much fun doing this because we get to see what everyone found and if there is something we want to buy as well!” Taylor said. “I’m not sure it’s entirely possible to see all the cool products for sale at the Cranberry Festival and this helps us see more of it.”

They’re Not Alone

Cranfest turns 50 this year, and Terri Truettner has been going for 30 of them. Her squad of 23 has proven to be die-hard attendees, even in 2020–when there wasn’t a festival to attend. Their group traveled to Monroe County anyway, just to support and visit Warrens “in its natural state.”

Truettner’s crew, which now includes the next generation of fest-goers, meanders up from the South Milwaukee/Oak Creek area, taking their time along the drive to stop for shopping, food, and drinks.

They always spend the night in Necedah before heading to Warrens first thing in the morning. Her troupe is known as the “Garage Gang” after befriending some locals, and serving up beverages from their garage.

Terri Truettner says her crew fills up their vehicles with treasures the first day, then explores other attractions the second day. She says “Warrens does it right” and they’d never miss it. Photo courtesy Terri Truettner


Related: The Cranberry Festival I Wasn’t Expecting: Tips for Visiting

Dressing for the Fest

Alisha Kamuchay has been heading up I-94 from Johnson Creek for a girls’ weekend for the last 15 years.

Her group of 20 to 25 is multi-generational, including mothers-in-law, family members, and friends.

One of those friends is Heidi Gerth. 

“Cranfest is a special time of the year to make memories with amazing friends,” Gerth shared. “What’s not to love about a no-judgment zone, shopping, games, and late night bonfires with the ladies?”

Each year, the group wears colorful costumes and drives decorated golf carts from their villa at Jellystone campground to the festival grounds.

It makes it easier for us to find each other in the crowds, plus it’s just fun,” Kamuchay said.

Another friend, Kim Stamper, is already looking towards the future.

We plan all year for what theme we will do the next,” she told us. “I can’t wait to bring my daughter when she is old enough.”

“We all truly love the cranberry festival and the time we set aside every year to be together,” 58-year-old Taylor said. “It recharges our batteries and feeds our souls.”

“We will be forever grateful for our time there.”

Shop till they drop! That’s what Alisha Kamuchey’s bunch does. Traditions also include games around the campfire at night with stories of previous Cranfests. Kamuchey laughs, “What happens at Cranfest, stays at Cranfest!” Photo courtesy Alisha Kamuchey

If You Go

The Warrens Cranberry Festival is always the last full weekend in September. This year, it’s Sept. 22-24, 2023. Click here for a full schedule of events or here to watch a video from Discover Wisconsin to get a taste of what it’s all about. 

 

One of the “founding members” of Taylor’s squad couldn’t make it this year, after a cancer diagnosis and surgery, so the friends made sure she was still part of the tradition with them. Photo courtesy Rhonda Taylor

 

Author

  • Salina Heller

    A former 15-year veteran of reporting local news for western Wisconsin TV and radio stations, Salina Heller also volunteers in community theater, helps organize the Chippewa Valley Air Show, and is kept busy by her daughter’s elementary school PTA meetings. She is a UW-Eau Claire alum.

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