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Hospitality reigns at VIP area

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news Detroit Lakes, 56501
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

“Picture perfect, sunny and 75 — it’s like a movie set!”

FACE, Inc., Vice President John Gourley might be entitled to gush a little over the weather for this year’s WE Fest. After all, Mother Nature has not always been so kind to the country music festival, which concluded its 31st annual run on Saturday.

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“It’s been 10 or 12 years since they’ve had this kind of forecast for the entire weekend,” Gourley noted.

And the fans responded enthusiastically by flocking to the Soo Pass Ranch south of Detroit Lakes in near-record numbers.

“It’s either sold out, or very close to it,” Gourley said Thursday afternoon, noting that there had still been a handful of general admission tickets left that morning — but not very many — and the reserved seat tickets were completely gone.

It’s not all that surprising that the VIP box seats at WE Fest have been consistently selling out for several years.

Those who have them enjoy a concert experience like no other — and this year’s VIP ticket holders were treated to a whole new level of service.

Back behind the WE Fest Main Stage where the VIP Hospitality section is located, the serving area was upgraded with poured concrete floors, higher-quality tents to protect guests and staff from the elements, customized light fixtures and ceiling fans, black-and-white décor, and fresh flowers on all the tables.

“I think the fresh flowers are a really nice touch,” said Gourley.

In addition, FACE hired a new five-star catering service, Prairie Bay Grill and Catering of Baxter, Minn., to serve up meals for all the VIP guests, backstage staff and performers.

The Prancing Pony, a café located directly behind the Main Stage that caters exclusively to performers and backstage personnel, was also upgraded with new tables, décor, lighting and an expanded patio area (in keeping with the theme, the patio was fenced in with hay bales).

“I had one of the performers tell me this was the best food they’d had on their entire tour,” Gourley said proudly.

And that’s not all. To cater to those WE Fest VIP fans who wanted to be treated like stars, FACE opened a new, members only private club known as the WE Club Lounge, located in VIP Hospitality.

Under the WE Club tent, members and their guests (each paid member is allowed to bring along one guest per visit) are treated to top-shelf beverages, gourmet food, personalized service and live entertainment (from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m.).

Performers at the WE Club Lounge this year included Detroit Lakes’ own Tim Eggebraaten as well as Mike Holtz of Carmen the Cactus, Jeremiah James & a Fiddle, and the Jason Paulson Trio, who also performed on the Main Stage Friday afternoon.

“There’s music (in the lounge) throughout the evening, but particularly after the Main Stage shuts down for the night,” Gourley said. “People can come in and have a nightcap or a little bite to eat.”

As club members and their guests enter the lounge, a host or hostess greets them at the front entrance.

“They know who you are,” Gourley said. “It’s just another level of VIP experience.

“We’re always trying to come up with something new to make available to the fans, something that’s different from what’s available elsewhere,” Gourley said.

With the WE Club Lounge, the idea was to create a “truly upscale experience” similar to what they might find at an exclusive club in New York City or Chicago, he explained.

“We brought in top-shelf beverages that we don’t have anywhere else on site,” Gourley said, including wine and champagne as well as a few “signature cocktails such as the Prairie Pony, Prairie Mary and WE Tea.

In addition, there are at least two bartenders and three servers working in the club at all times, along with a pair of hosts or hostesses.

“It’s meant to be very low key and personalized,” Gourley said of the level of service offered to club members.

There are TV monitors both above the bar — which was custom-built by Fargo resident Dave Suppa — and the small stage area at the back of the club.

“You can look up at the monitors and keep track of what’s happening on the main stage,” Gourley said.

He noted that some early WE Club members indicated that they were going to use the lounge as a place to entertain clients, and “a couple have asked to use it for private parties.”

Membership does have its perks, but it’s not for everyone. An annual membership is $100 per person, and is available to anyone who holds a VIP Gold or VIP Premium Gold Circle box seat. Free drinks are not part of the package.

This year, the club membership stood at about 50 VIP box seat holders and their guests, or about 100 people in all.

Though the lounge has a maximum capacity of about 180 people, Gourley said, “We’re going to limit the number of memberships, to keep it pretty relaxed and intimate.”

Eventually, however, if the concept goes over well, it may be expanded.

“We have even grander plans if this works out,” he hinted.

Of course, even for those who do not hold VIP box seats, WE Fest offers plenty of entertainment in the Main Stage concert bowl, and the adjacent Barn Stage, Ranch House Saloon and patio area.

“What makes this show work is the fans. Every decision we make is based on trying to enhance their experience,” Gourley said.

The Barn Stage and patio area has also been upgraded over the past couple of years, Gourley noted, and now serves as a late-night venue for showcasing some of the festival’s hottest up-and-coming performers after the Main Stage has closed down for the night.

It is also the site of the festival’s kickoff party, which this year was expanded to include not just one, but two nights of music on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Gourley said that the Barn Stage has an “up close and personal” environment that managers and agents from Nashville are starting to equate to the famous Bluebird Café as a venue for showcasing the industry’s hottest up-and-coming artists.

“We have an excellent track record,” he said, referring to the fact that so many of the artists who perform on the Barn Stage “get huge” the year after they’ve performed there.

And speaking of next year: Tickets for WE Fest 2014 actually went on sale in July this year, with Jason Aldean, Brad Paisley and the Zac Brown Band already lined up as the main headliners.

Also confirmed this week for 2014 are Florida Georgia Line, The Band Perry and Brantley Gilbert, according to an announcement made Thursday by WE Fest promoters.

“We have already had an unprecedented response,” Gourley said. “It is stacking up to be yet another record breaker in every way.”

Visit the website, www.wefest.com, for details.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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