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Holiday Train concert and fundraising nets more than $136,000 for food shelf

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life Cottage Grove, 55016

Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

Corinne Johnson of Cottage Grove had been to previous Holiday Train visits and she wasn’t going to miss this one.

Johnson could see Sheryl Crow for free, on top of taking in the usual sights and sounds of Canadian Pacific’s annual Holiday Train stop.

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She invited her mother Janet but gave her a warning: “It’s going to involve freezing for a couple hours.”

The Johnson family — Corinne’s brother, Brian, joined them — were among the bundled masses huddled on Saturday to soak up hit songs by Crow and enjoy family activities despite weather conditions more appropriate for snowmobiling than concert going.

“How in the world do you live in a place this cold?” Crow, the pop-and-country singer, joked midway through her set, the most anticipated performance in a concert event that also included a set by fellow Grammy winner Take 6, Christmas tunes by the Holiday Train house band and the announcement of $125,000 in donations to local and national food banks.

Estimates for the outdoor concert put turnout at up to 15,000 people, Canadian Pacific spokesman Ed Greenberg said. The crowd thinned considerably toward the end of Crow’s 40-minute set as the temperature dropped from the mid-teens at the beginning of the late-afternoon event to the upper single digits by evening.

The concert, billed as the largest event in Cottage Grove history, was the final of three Canadian Pacific celebrations held on the Holiday Train routes this season to celebrate 15 years of the program.

The Friends in Need Food Shelf in St. Paul Park, which has benefited from Holiday Train stops in Cottage Grove for 11 years, was the recipient of a $25,000 donation from Canadian Pacific. That was on top of over $100,000 that had been raised by the local Holiday Train Committee. By Monday, over $135,700 had been collected for the food shelf, which serves all of south Washington County.

Canadian Pacific also donated $100,000 to a national anti-hunger organization called Feeding America.

The stage and surrounding area at Canadian Pacific’s rail yard near Highway 61 at times resembled a snow globe Saturday night as light flurries whipped through the air and evening darkness was punctuated by concert stage lighting, illuminated bracelets worn by waving and cheering concert-goers and the thousands of Christmas lights that adorned the Holiday Train parked at stage right.

An adjacent North Pole Station of heated tents featuring Santa, snacks and children’s activities provided brief warmth for attendees, who moved briskly from one activity to another.

“It’s amazing what they do here,” said Cheryl Gackstetter, who arrived early with her 5-year-old granddaughter Lola Gackstetter. They wanted to make sure they saw Santa, and were trying to stay warm with cocoa and cookies as they took in the rest of the event

Local organizers were planning for 20,000 to 30,000 people, but acknowledged that weather would dictate the crowd size.

People were encouraged to carpool and park in three designated parking areas served by shuttle buses. Cottage Grove Police Capt. Pete Koerner said traffic and parking went well; there were no logistical problems and attendees told officers and volunteers that it went smoothly, Koerner said.

Canadian Pacific paid to stage the show, but officials declined to say how much it cost. The city of Cottage Grove will likely end up paying about $15,000 for highway safety signs, parking lot security and other parking expenses, City Administrator Ryan Schroeder said.

After Cottage Grove, the Holiday Train’s U.S. route continues through northwestern Minnesota and on to North Dakota before crossing into Canada to end the seasonal run. In all, there are about 150 Holiday Train stops in Canada and the U.S. each year.

Cottage Grove Mayor Myron Bailey thanked the railroad company, which selected the city as the only host site for a U.S. anniversary concert.

“This obviously means a lot to our community,” Bailey said.

It probably was not the last Holiday Train stop in south Washington County.

A Canadian Pacific official promised the festively lit train will return next year — just not with Sheryl Crow in tow.

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