Excellent question! Why is it that these two fly-ins are nearly perfect? What makes a guy fly a Porterfield from California to Iowa 20 years in a row? I mean, he spends more time traveling to and fro than he does at the fly-in itself?
How does Lockhaven attract people in Cubs from every coast in crummy weather? The Northwest Biplane Fly-in in Spokane is doing it, too. Why did Bartlesville fail? Why is Lee Bottom growing as fast as it is?
For me, and I admit extreme bias here, Blakesburg has a nostalgia steeped into the very grass we land on. Brodhead has better grass, better camping, and interesting wings hidden in hangars equal to the museum at Blakesburg.
Both are fairly laid back with few rules and no corporate entities begging for my dollars. I can fly to each of them, pitch my tent with or near my plane, fly three times a day around the patch in formation with my pals without having to fill out forms or wait for a slot time to do so. Food is easily accessible (though Blakesburg has the edge there in quality). Each one attracts the rare and unusual aircraft as well as the regulars: 30 Champs and 40 Cubs, 20 T-crafts and a dozen Stearman.
Good people at each, serene scenery, ATC-free flying, great campfire or pub nightlife. Forums and fascinating folks to talk to at each.
Creating a fly-in with all these attributes is a matter of creating a petri dish that is equal parts grass, timing, comfort, and people.
Gimme the grass! I'll land on it, sleep on it, walk around all day on it. Cement won't do, no sir, thank you.
The date can't conflict with, well, anything else important but timing is critical for weather and a pairing with other local events. (Love the steam thrashers convention in Iowa)
Pilots and their families will fly a long leg if there's a shady campground or frosty root beer at the other end. Some need access to hotels, some won't go anywhere there aren't showers (both Blakesburg and Brodhead have them). Some folks like a rental car and all some need is a place to park a chair near the runway.
People, of course are the key. I imagine there will be a day I can't manage to fly any more, but I'll still go. In fact, I'd go if either one of these events ceased to exist! Can't say I'd go to Bartlesville, OK in the heat of the summer without that fly-in there.
But if you manage to get good people (like Swander and Pemberton and Applegate and Younkin and the Hatz Boys) to show up, the rest of us will follow just to hang out in their genuine or hilarious presence.
Now, Oshkosh and Sun n Fun have great people, too...sometimes it's hard to share my friends with 10,000 strangers. The more intimate setting of a fly-in with a local feel is what I like best. It's a way to get away.
Give me 5 nights under a starry Iowa sky, a sunrise flight over the corn with a buddy in a Clipper off my wing and a sunset I can taste. Give me Iowa corn and Wisconsin bratwurst, pancakes for breakfast and an Arnold Palmer when I'm thirsty at lunch.
Even if it rains it still feels like I'm in just the right spot and just the right time.
And where else can you say something like that?