Celebration and song

WEST BEND – The rain couldn’t stop the celebration at a slightly soggy Songfest Sunday afternoon at the Grotto of the Redemption.

“We’ve had some sprinkles since we started, and one downpour, but we’re sticking it out,” said Executive Director Mary Straub Lavelle.

The annual outdoor concert had free children’s activities for the first time this year, including a bouncy house, a climbing wall and a big sand pile where little archeologists could dig for treasures.

“We had the option to move into the church. They’ve done it that way a few times in the past, but that’s not as much fun,” Straub Lavelle said. “(Here) it just has more of a carnival atmosphere.

“People have been praying to Father Dobberstein to intercede on our behalf, and I think he has.”

Though the ground was soaked, people came and sat under two big tents to hear the three Christian bands.

The quartet Higher Power from Des Moines started the day off, followed by Algona barbershop group, the Cornbelt Chorus.

The featured band was the Benson Family Singers: Peter and Rachelle Benson and three of their four sons. The fourth one will sing someday too, Rachelle said.

The group is from Southern Minnesota, and visited the Grotto for the first time before their set.

“It was all cool,” said Aaron Benson, 11.

“They really like special stones and gems and things, so that part was particularly exciting for them,” Rachelle Benson said.

She said the family’s been singing together for about four years now.

“I’ve been doing barbershop music for a long time,” Peter Benson said. “We started doing that, then branched off into bluegrass. We’ve been touring this summer, going to different churches in Illinois and Wisconsin.”

It’s fun to travel with the family, but this is also a ministry, he said.

“We do this to spread the gospel,” he said.

Eight-year-old Luke Benson plays mandolin, while David, 13, plays banjo and Aaron, 11, plays guitar and sings melody. Two-year-old Paul will join the group someday too, Rachelle said.

“He tries to join us in the act,” Peter Benson said.

Brett and Anna Pickar, of Graettinger, came out to hear the Cornbelt Chorus. It was their first visit to the Grotto.

“We did walk over there. It’s amazing,” said Brett Pickar.

“It was a lot of work,” said Anna Pickar.

Their three kids were also loving the events.

“They liked the climbing wall,” Anna Pickar said, “and the bouncy house.”

The climbing wall was provided by the National Guard, but they weren’t sure at first if weather would permit it.

“It was off and on, but we wanted to get out here and see what we can do for the community,” said Sgt. Sam Lassiter.

Fortunately, the rain kept to a minimum and the tower dried off quickly.

“It’s not fun to climb rocks when they’re wet and slippery,” he said.