How Hot Valley Nights Celebrates Community, Music and Entertainment
By Marla DeFoe
Nothing beats live music on a hot summer night. Breathing in the air, swaying to the music, and being together with friends, just celebrating that we made it through another Midwest winter and spring, long, hot nights under the stars are our reward.
Hot Valley Nights, a two-day music festival in East Grand Forks, Minnesota, has been bringing national acts and regional bands to the region for seven years. Rebranded from the former Happy Harry’s Rockin’ Up North Fest, Hot Valley Nights is ready to bring talented musicians to East Grand Forks again this August. Along with headliners Tracy Lawrence and Dylan Scott, performers also include Tigerlily Gold, Drake White & The Big Fire, Matt Aakre and the Dirty Little Secret, and Paint the Town.
I sat down with Justin Larocque and Tyler Piper of Hot Valley Nights to talk about the event, the rebranding, the future, and yes, porta-potties, too.
When Justin moved to Grand Forks from Fargo, he noticed a lack of outdoor summer entertainment options. He took matters into his own hands and started planning the first Rockin’ Up North Fest. “I just said to myself, let’s create it, and see if they come,” said Justin. He planned the first two years’ festivals on his own, and then realized as the event grew, he needed more help. “Planning a festival is a year-round job,” he said. “I now have an amazing committee of people who all bring their specific strengths to planning the festival.”
Tyler Piper, one of the committee members, is responsible for the marketing and social media surrounding the festival. “The whole group is passionate about bringing something to the area,” said Tyler. “Part of a thriving community is having things to do that bring people together.” Other committee members include Mike Boushee, Chris Halstensen, and Jenny Milling.
Bringing people together is something Hot Valley Nights does very well. The event has grown from year to year, with more to offer attendees as the festival grows. “We like to cater to a wider audience,” said Justin. One way they do that is by splitting the weekend into two distinctive nights. One night, they bring in classic performers, geared more toward the older generations. Past headliners have included Diamond Rio, BlackHawk, Little Texas, and this year’s Friday headliner, Tracy Lawrence. The second night features today’s hottest new country stars and up-and-coming talent, catering to the younger crowds. Past performers have included Michael Ray, Love & Theft, James Otto, Jordan Davis, and this year – Dylan Scott.
Being the longest running, and now only, concert series in town, is a source of pride for Justin. He recalled a lot of the “growing pains” that have come as the years go on. “There are so many things that need to be addressed and improved from year to year,” he said. Some of those things have included a more streamlined ticketing process for beverages, a VIP-only area, an adult arcade, and more food trucks. “Our first year we had around 900 people,” said Justin.
The festival has grown every year since it began, with around 5,000 people expected this year. “We went from 900 people our first year, to 1,200 our second year, and expected around 1,800 our third year,” Justin said. Year three, is also known as the year with the famous porta-potty incident. “When you get twice as many people as you expected, there’s bound to be some issues,” he laughed. With a lack of bathrooms, Justin had to spring into action quickly. “We were able to find more porta-potties during the event, and they brought them right over,” he said. “There are so many things that happen behind the scenes, and you have to be flexible and ready to make changes on the fly.”
Justin credits his years in the restaurant industry for his ability to pivot and think on his feet. He is the owner of the popular East Grand Forks bar & grill, The Spud Jr., which opened in 2019. The Spud Jr. also holds music performances and comedians, as well as other private events in its charming Prohibition Room. “It’s great to have an entertainment space that can be used year-round,” said Justin. “Having fun things to do in town has become a passion of mine.”
If you are looking for fun this summer, check out Hot Valley Nights-Two days of live music, great food trucks, and an adult arcade, where you can play games to win great prizes. Tickets are available on their website:
// To view the full story, check out the digital issue here
From Issue 2, 2023
Photos Submitted by Hot Valley Nights