Beer? Crowds? Yep, it's WE Fest!
It’s almost here.
Detroit Lakes’ biggest party of the summer, the country music extravaganza known as WE Fest, officially gets underway Thursday, and organizers say it’s already shaping up to be a record-breaker.
“This is going to be a record year,” says John Gourley, chief marketing officer for the company that operates WE Fest, Festivals And Concert Events (FACE) Inc.
“It appears we’re going to surpass the 30th anniversary in terms of the number of people,” he added.
As always, the small army of staff and volunteers who put together the annual music festival have been hard at work making sure that campers and music lovers alike will bring home some one-of-a-kind memories.
“Our Main Stage is actually the largest portable stage in the world,” Gourley said. “It was actually designed and built for another music festival called Bonnaroo.”
But a few years ago, the organizers of that festival decided to replace the portable stage with one that was did not need to be dismantled and remounted each year, and FACE was able to purchase the portable structure.
“This will be the first year that the full stage will be completely and fully utilized,” Gourley said. “All of our headliners, Brad Paisley Jason Aldean and Zac Brown are bringing the same shows they use to play the giant stadiums.
“We’ve doubled our usual stage crew to accommodate all the hardware and special effects they’re bringing in,” he added. “It will be a treat unlike anything people have seen here before.”
Part of the reason for that is the new three-story media tower that was completed just in time for this year’s festival.
“Each year we try to make sure we are at state of the art level with our production — sound, lights and video,” Gourley said. “We’ve built a new tower that people will see out in the crowd behind the VIP area.”
The new tower has three levels, with one level dedicated to sound, one to lights and one to video.
“The perfect situation for production is to have your sound, video and lights all separated on their own discrete level and elevated above the crowd,” Gourley explained. “It’s pretty high tech in terms of design… We just put the finishing touches on that (Monday).”
At the foot of the tower will be a new designated vending area, where “hawkers” will be on hand to bring beverages and snacks out into the audience on demand.
“It’s like when you buy popcorn, beer and soda from your seat in the baseball stadium,” Gourley said.
Also new this year, WE Fest has created a customized “WE Fest 2014” app for smart phone users that includes a complete set of festival site and campground maps, with a GPS locator function that will enable attendees to “pin” their campsite or car’s location in the parking lot, set a meeting site or find friends in the crowd at the concert bowl.
In addition, the app includes a complete schedule of performance times and artist bios, games (some with prizes) and more. It also includes information on what types of vendors are available, and where they can be found.
“It can be found in any app store, and it downloads instantly,” Gourley said. “It’s super high tech and requires just seconds to load. It’s a great functional addition to WE Fest that allows you to keep up to date on everything that’s going on.”
Another new amenity for smart phone users is the addition of personal lockers equipped with mobile charging stations. Guests can purchase one of the lockers for the weekend and not only store their smart phones, tablets and other e-devices there for charging, but also keep a jacket or store their vendor purchases inside.
“The lockers are located at the southeast and southwest corners of the concert bowl, and there are some in VIP as well,” Gourley said.
Speaking of the VIP section, the members-only WE Club that was added in the VIP hospitality area last year has also been expanded and revamped a little.
“We plan to have more entertainment there, and hopefully some of our Main Stage artists will be stopping in briefly to hang out and maybe do some interviews,” Gourley said.
“There are still a few memberships in the WE Club left this year for anyone who would like to join,” he added, noting that those interested can contact him at email@example.com for details.
“We’ve also added a new bar in the VIP hospitality area to serve our customers there, and changed the whole look of the VIP area,” Gourley said.
“In the campgrounds themselves, we’ve dramatically expanded our vendors that are out there. We will have food and beverage vendors there working 24/7, serving pizza, hot dogs, burgers, sandwiches, breakfast burritos. One of the requests we’ve had from people is that they would like to have more amenities in the campgrounds, and we’ve made it so if they don’t want to cook, it’ll all be right there.”
Vehicles and pedestrians traveling between the concert bowl, Ranch House, Barn Stage and campgrounds will also have less gravel dust to contend with, Gourley added.
“We’ve done a dust control coating on all the main roads, and it’s made a dramatic change,” he said. “It was another request that we got last year and I think people will recognize it immediately.”
All about the music
Though the Main Stage at the Soo Pass Ranch won’t be open for business until Thursday afternoon, the WE Fest kickoff party commences tonight.
The Barn Stage (located adjacent to the Ranch House Saloon, on the north side of the main concert bowl) will open its doors to the general public at 6:30 p.m., with Maiden Dixie taking the stage for a 7 p.m. set. They will be followed by Sundy Best at 9 p.m. and Blackjack Billy at 11 p.m.
Maiden Dixie is an eclectic group of Minneapolis musicians who burst on the Minnesota music scene in 2011. Sundy Best is a Kentucky-based pair of storytellers and musicians who have been friends since elementary school, while Blackjack Billy is a high-energy quintet who have coined their style of music as “Redneck Rock.”
Blackjack Billy, who had their first big hit this past year with “The Booze Cruise,” will also play Thursday night (Friday morning) on the Barn Stage, following the conclusion of Main Stage headliner Jason Aldean’s set at approximately 12:30 a.m.
Tonight’s music is “free to everyone,” according to Gourley.
The Ranch House will also be open for socializing throughout tonight’s festivities.
On Thursday, the main event begins with Fargo favorites Redline taking the Main Stage at 2:45 p.m., followed by up-and-coming Tennessee songbird Ashley Monroe at 4:15 p.m. She will be followed by Charlie Worsham at 6:15 p.m., Florida Georgia Line at 8:30 p.m., and headliner Jason Aldean, who will close out the Main Stage show at 10:45 p.m.
Friday’s Main Stage lineup begins with another set by Maiden Dixie at 2:45 p.m., followed by Chris Janson at 4:15 p.m., Randy Houser at 6:15 p.m., The Band Perry — making their first WE Fest appearance — at 8:30 p.m. and headliner Brad Paisley at 10:45 p.m.
Following his own afternoon WE Fest debut, Janson will do a second set on the Barn Stage at 12:30 a.m.
The music resumes on the Main Stage Saturday at 2:45 p.m. with another WE Fest first-timer, Chris Hawkey, who will be followed by husband-and-wife duo Thompson Square at 4:15 p.m. Hawkey will do a second set at 12:30 a.m. on the Barn Stage.
Two familiar WE Fest faces, Travis Tritt and Brantley Gilbert, take the stage at 6:15 and 8:30 p.m., respectively, while the Zac Brown Band — making their official WE Fest debut as the final night’s headliner — closes out the Main Stage performances at 10:45 p.m.
“We’ve been trying to get Zac Brown and The Band Perry here for years and years,” Gourley said. “We are thrilled to welcome both of them for their first time at WE Fest.”
Tickets on sale for this year — and next
While there are “a very limited number” of both camping and music passes for this weekend still available, said Gourley, “I’d encourage people not to wait to buy them.”
He said it appears that this year’s attendance is headed for another sellout — and once the last ticket is sold, any stragglers showing up at the main gate without one will be fresh out of luck.
For those already thinking of WE Fest 2015, tickets are on sale now for that event as well. Husband-and-wife chart-toppers Blake Shelton and Miranda Lambert were announced as next year’s headliners when the tickets first went on sale July 7.
“They’re huge,” he said. “It’s already selling faster than any previous show ever has.”
Gourley added that additional 2015 performers will most likely be announced shortly after the conclusion of this weekend’s festivities.
For more information on ticket prices and availability, visit the official website at www.wefest.com or call the box office at 800-493-3378.
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.