DasFest appears to end run in Walworth County

By Jennifer Eisenbart


A popular late-summer fundraiser will change names, change locations – and perhaps no longer benefit local charities.

DasFest USA, normally held the first weekend in August at the Walworth County Fairgrounds in Elkhorn, will not be taking place this year, though it may come back in the future.

Meanwhile, DasFest Wisconsin will take place the first weekend of August at the Bavarian Bierhaus in Glendale.

United Way, which had run the event and used proceeds to benefit area charitable organizations, will not be involved in the Glendale event. However, DasFest Wisconsin operator Tammy Dunn said some organizations in the county would still receive donations from the event.

The announcement came after the event came off the Walworth County Fairgrounds schedule, Dunn’s departure from United Way last August and numerous board members with United Way resigning in the last year.


Formal announcement

The announcement of the move – and the name change – was made on the DasFest Facebook page March 2, with a video and the following statement:

“Friends, DAS Fest USA will not be taking place at the Walworth County Fairgrounds Aug. 2-4, 2024. Understandably there will be disappointment given the time, talent, and support of so many individuals, businesses, tourism entities, sponsors, and nonprofit organizations. We were disappointed too.

“But recently we received an exciting opportunity from the Bavarian Bierhaus in Glendale to create a similar festival and keep Das Fest going.

“Willkommen to Das Fest Wisconsin, taking place Aug. 2-4, 2024.

“You’ll find many of the same vendors, entertainers, activities, German food and bier, and all the Gemütlichkeit (friendliness and cheer). Plus, there will be some new reasons to put Das Fest on your summer-must list.

“The Bavarian Bierhaus features a Munich-style outdoor fest hall, a charming park-like setting, a soccer field for our Little Leg Dog Races, and an air-conditioned brewery and restaurant. If you haven’t been there, you’re going to love it! We’ll have three stages of music with a variety of performances including The Alex Meixner Band, The Red Hot Chilli Pipers, The Swing Crew, The Freistadt Alte Kameraden, and many more.

“And admission will be FREE!

“Proceeds from Das Fest Wisconsin will support several charitable organizations.

Let the countdown to Gemütlichkeit begin as we get ready to PROST for charity at Das Fest Wisconsin this summer at the beautiful Bavarian Bierhaus, Milwaukee’s Original Biergarten!”

The Facebook page announcement was made on the same page that had previously been used for DasFest USA. However, the page was renamed to DasFest WI.


Controversy surrounding the event

Following the 2023 festival, Dunn resigned her position as executive director of United Way, taking the same position at the Walworth County Food and Diaper Bank.

“I had this opportunity present itself,” Dunn said last week. “I absolutely love this place and its mission. I left for a better opportunity.”

Dunn’s statement on DasFest leaving the Walworth County Fairgrounds was more guarded.

“Many factors played in,” Dunn said. “I can’t really talk about it, and even if I did, it wouldn’t change the outcome. I will say: there’s no one more disappointed than I am.”

Walworth County Fairgrounds CEO and General Manager Larry Gaffey explained the timeline of the festival leaving last week.

Following the festival, a “good portion” of the Board of Directors for United Way left, as did Dunn.

He said he was waiting to hear what was going to happen regarding the festival from United Way. However, he was not contacted until later in the fall by United Way president Katherine Gaulke, who asked if the fairgrounds would be interested in taking over the festival.

“I would say they weren’t interested in running it,” he said.

Gaffey went on to say that he asked for financial figures from United Way and did not receive them. Later, he was asked to join in a valuation meeting with other interested parties who might want to purchase the festival.

He said the fairgrounds organization was reluctant to pay anything for it, saying outdoor festivals can be risky. Given the uncertainty surrounding the event, a decision was made to place the Neon Nights country music festival on that weekend when it became apparent DasFest was not going to happen.

Gaffey said he wanted the public to know that the fairgrounds would have found a date for the festival in 2024, even with Neon Nights scheduled.

“DasFest was a great community event, and we were looking forward to it,” he said. “But we were surprised as far as what happened.

“I don’t want people to think the fairgrounds did something to prevent DasFest,” Gaffey added.


United Way issues

Ward Phillips, a former board member and partner agency coordinator with United Way, confirmed Monday that he resigned from the board last summer – and said many other board members went with him.

He said he decided to leave because of changes being made within the United Way organization, which included how many groups would receive funds from United Way.

“I wasn’t comfortable staying with the board,” he said. “It significantly narrowed the number (of groups receiving funds).”

The United Way website is still active, with 10 listed board members – including Gaulke as president. But on Monday afternoon, the phone number of 262-374-4474 was not being answered and messages were not returned.

While the festival was still working at getting off the ground – it started in 2021 – Phillips said the framework was there to turn the event into a profitable fundraiser for United Way.

He said he was not surprised to see DasFest moved to a new location. He added that there was controversy surrounding who would be running the event from the beginning.

DasFest started as a combined Elkhorn Area Chamber of Commerce and United Way event, and then moved under the sole direction of United Way after the first year.

Who exactly has ownership of the DasFest USA festival is unclear.

Dunn said she is the owner and director of the “new” DasFest, while United Way believes it still has ownership of the festival.

“There’s no copyright here,” Phillips said.

Gaulke was asked the following questions through Facebook messenger Monday afternoon:

  1. Can you confirm you have moved out of the area?
  2. Are you still president of United Way?
  3. Is there a lawsuit regarding the intellectual property of DasFest?
  4. What, in your opinion, led to DasFest leaving the fairgrounds?

Gaulke confirmed Monday afternoon that she had moved to Eau Claire, but visits the area frequently and attends United Way of Walworth County board meetings in person.

She is finishing her second three-year term on the board, and her first year as board president. Both her three-year term and term as board president will expire July 31.

Gaulke has also served as interim director until now, but a new executive director is expected to be named this week.

She said the rest of the questions would be shared with the Board of Directors in terms of a response.


The new festival

Dunn said the Bavarian Bierhaus, located at 700 W. Lexington Blvd., Glendale, reached out in January and said it was interested in helping keep the festival going.

“It’s a very cool setting, very similar to that fairgrounds vibe,” said Dunn, who added that she spent much of her childhood at the Bierhaus, dancing on Friday nights with the Oberlanders German dance group.

“Back in the day, it was called the Bavarian Inn,” she said. “It’s a very special place for me.”

Dunn made it clear that the festival in Glendale would be called “DasFest Wisconsin” and that she didn’t want to focus on the area losing the festival.

“I want to focus on the positive impact it had for three years,” Dunn said. “I am so grateful for all the sponsors and vendors and tourism partners and the fairgrounds for helping to bring it to life.

“It’s disappointing,” she added. “It’s a huge economic loss for our community, but I’m just going to hold onto the good that it did and the fun that we had.”

Dunn said the new event is not affiliated with the Walworth County Food and Diaper Bank, but it and other local non-profits would still benefit from it, with profits coming back to those Walworth County organizations.

One Comment

  1. Very sad! Walworth County provided alot of revenue, many German people attended.
    Glendale is no longer a safe area, to access anymore. Very sad!