Managing the Stage

Managing the Stage


This Labor Day weekend marked the 45th Earl Park Fall Festival in Earl Park, Indiana. Growing up just 6 miles south of this rural farm town, the annual festival has always held a special place in my heart. It is a tremendous honor to continue the legacy of so many community members including my grandfather, Leonard Hardebeck.

I remember as a 90’s kid walking around with my parents down the midway and stopping at the 4H stand for a pop. (Indiana is in the north and you call it a pop, not soda!) You have to stop by the Goodland Lion’s Club ice cream stand for a twist (chocolate and vanilla) cone. Then you have an cinnamon roll stand. It’s surprising I don’t have diabetes!


Besides the food, the truck and tractor pull and the demolition derby were big highlights as a kid, but what sticks out in my mind when I think of the Earl Park Fall Festival isn’t the loud engines of the tractors or the beautiful cars in the auto show. I remember walking down into the bluegrass area of the park where the trees cover the ground with shade from the late August/early September sun. There in the shade a few hundred people sat on benches on in their lawn chairs and listened to the bluegrass music being played on the little stage. Off to the left of the stage sat my grandma and grandpa in a golf cart on top of the hill.


While grandma sat there reading her book, grandpa would just be watching the audience. As a kid I kind of wondered why he wasn’t watching the musicians but as a got a little older I figured out the he watched the audience for their reaction to the band on stage. See grandpa was in charge for years to hire the bluegrass bands to play over the weekend and I don’t think he had a musical bone in his body. But he knew what worked.


Let’s Fast forward almost 20 years from those days to now. I’ve been volunteering with the Earl Park Fall Festival now for 5 years and I am the website “developer” and also the bluegrass stage manager. I put developer in quotes because I was lazy and just created the website using Wix, which worked for what we needed but trust me, I’m going to build a proper site! As the stage manager I’m responsible for prepping the stage and keeping everything on schedule.

Since I live about 7 hours away, I took about a week off of work to get everything ready for the weekend. I must be getting good at this because basically I got everything ready within two days of being there. This gave me a lot of time to help the other volunteers and brings me to the main point of this post.

The week at Earl Park I spent preparing for the festival changed me. I enjoyed it so much more because I sought people out that needed help. I felt useful. I felt appreciated. I felt important. Most of all I felt like I was part of the community and I was doing something that was more than myself. I was doing something that was more than myself.

I feel like most of our society focuses on the individual: What can you do? What skills do you have? What are your achievements? But what good are the talents of the individual if they are not shared with their community? Why do they matter? How will they be remembered?

45 years ago my community started a true legacy that is still relevant to the community today. Nowhere do I feel this more than when all my friends and I are jamming around the campfires.

All the bluegrass musicians whether they were professionals or just hobbyists greeted me with a firm handshake and a great big smile. What that did was spoke to me that they were happy to be back again and that they respected me for all the things I’ve been doing over the last few years.


My hope is that I can share that same feeling those musicians gave me with my coworkers and the software development community here in Knoxville.

Next time you see someone you’ve been working, just give them a firm handshake and smile and tell them thank you for their hard work.


Dennis Eugene Stepp, Jr. avatar
About Dennis Eugene Stepp, Jr.
I passionately deliver innovative software solutions that enhance the customer experience and maximize business value. Building upon over eight years of software engineering experience I assist technologists in architecture, automation, design, implementation, testing, and workflow. I continuously broaden my skills through game development, conference speaking, and networking within the software development community.