For intern, fest was a WE bit frustrating
Upon my first day as the summer intern at the Detroit Lakes Tribune, my fellow reporters told me I'd be covering WE Fest.
I wasn't particularly happy about the idea, to be honest -- I'd heard horror stories from high school and college friends who drank away the weekend, only to not remember the concerts they saw or who's tent they slept in, which isn't really my cup of tea.
Needless to say, I wasn't too keen on chatting it up all weekend with a crowd of overly inebriated kids, and tried thinking of ways to get out of it, until I found out that I would get an all-access media pass, where I could see the concerts from VIP and simply write a 'personal experience' narrative of my first time at the festival.
Yes, it's true. Me, a 21-year-old college student who grew up around country music (and still listens quite frequently) living in central Minnesota had never been to WE Fest.
I had gone once in 1995 when I was 8, and my dad worked for Mid-States Development in Fargo, which owned KFGO and some other country radio stations in eastern North Dakota, so he was given six VIP tickets for "John Day."
"John Day" featured John Denver, John Barry, John Anderson, and headliner John Michael Montgomery.
My mom wanted to see Denver, and I was dying to see Montgomery, having recently memorized every word to his song "Sold," about finding love at an auction (proud to say, I can still sing that song word for word).
So, my parents took me along to the concert, with my grandpa, and my cousin and his girlfriend.
I don't remember much, except for being awfully close to the stage, and not understanding why my mom thought John Denver was so great, because he just seemed like an old guy with a guitar to me at the time.
Unfortunately, however, my experience at WE Fest as an 8-year-old was far better than what I experienced Thursday night.
Ask anyone at the newspaper office -- I was hyped up to go to this year's event, and everyone told me how much fun I would have; how great the concerts would be.
It should have been a great time -- had I been able to get in to the concerts in the first place.
My night began when I decided to take the shuttle to Soo Pass Ranch from the Becker County fairgrounds.
I proudly displayed my media pass to the woman at the West Gate upon arrival, only to be told that they couldn't let me in because I didn't have a wristband (I was told by the shuttle people that I didn't need one since I had the media pass).
"But, I'm media," I said.
"Well, your pass should say 'All Access' for us to let you in," she said.
"But, it says 'Backstage Access,'" I said. "Isn't that the same thing? I was told I could go anywhere with this thing, and you're telling me I can't even get in?"
So, I started making the trek around to the East Gate where I could get a wristband, but got halfway around the grounds when I came upon an open space near the Saloon where there wasn't any security. I decided to just walk in.
I found some friends on the reserved lawn and decided to watch Taylor Swift's concert with them before heading back to the newspaper's hospitality tent backstage.
Swift put on a good show, and we had pretty decent seats. Her set was a mix of recognizable songs with new stuff off her second album, and a surprisingly good cover of a Rihanna's top-40 song, Take A Bow.
With her sparkly blue dress and cowboy boots, Swift seemed to have a great time on stage, jamming on her glittery guitar and flipping her long, curly blonde hair around like she was in an 80's metal band.
Following Swift's set, I walked to the VIP entrance, but the security guy said I could only go through one door, and had to walk me through it as if I was five years old.
Outside of the door, however, was a middle spot between backstage, the VIP campground, and the hospitality area.
I felt like I'd just been thrown out of WE Fest, by myself, and didn't know where I was.
To add to my disappointment, the security women at the gates to backstage still wouldn't let me through, despite my press badge that clearly said "Backstage Access."
"We are not accepting these passes anymore," she told me.
"But, I'm media," I said. "All my people, my coworkers, are back at the newspaper hospitality tent. What do you expect me to do? Where am I supposed to go?"
Exponentially frustrated at this point, I won't deny that my eyes started to well up. I didn't want to be wandering around Soo Pass Ranch by myself aimlessly into the night.
"Well, I suppose you could try walking around this pond over to the VIP gate, and see what they tell you," she said.
"Fine," I said angrily, turning around (muttering choice words under my breath) and speed-walking around the dinky pond.
It wound up partially being the answer to my problems. Walking around the pond led me to another non-security manned gate to VIP camping, which I knew would connect to the rows of hospitality tents.
When I finally found the newspaper tent, I promptly began relaying my story to some of my coworkers, who were appalled at how much trouble I was having with my press pass.
In an effort to clear up the matter, I went with our photographer and some other media folk to the entrance of VIP and backstage where they were getting ready for the start of Jason Aldean's set.
Once again, I was told I couldn't go in. Out photographer could, because he had a special "authorized photographer" badge, but apparently, my media backstage access pass was only good for backstage (which was closed off for big acts, like Rascal Flatts) and the hospitality area.
The change in badge meaning had taken place earlier that day, and we hadn't been notified.
"But, these are the badges I was given for all the reporters two days ago," our photographer said.
"How am I supposed to do any reporting if I can't even see the concert?" I said.
"Your badge says 'backstage,'" the man said. "Is this backstage?"
"No," I said. "But, I'm a reporter."
"Well, I can't let you in," he said.
"Well, then where do I get a badge like that so I can do my job?" I asked.
"Go get a new pass tomorrow morning," he said.
And, with that, I went back to the hospitality tent and listened to the muffled sounds of Jason Aldean.
Later, I was still hankering to get a glimpse of Rascal Flatts, and was able to scrounge up a wristband to get me into general admission for their set with a coworker.
We stood in the back of general admission, watched the jumbo-trons (not an effective way to see a concert, if you ask me) and stood for 30 minutes, half-heartedly into the music being so energetically played.
People-watching in general admission was the only semi-interesting event, other than attempting to see the speck that was a band member: one girl in a white string bikini looked like she was ready to topple over (we joked about what would happen if we pulled the string on her top).
Another intoxicated young man came up a little later and asked me to dance, and I let him stand next to me with his arm over my shoulder, only because he could barely stand on his own.
But, when his hand began to drift south of the border, shall we say, I called it a night, and we left the concert bowl to go back to the hospitality tent before Rascal Flatts' set was even half way through.
While part of me is glad that security doesn't let just anyone in to certain areas of the concert bowl, organizers of WE Fest should be smart enough to know that changing the meaning of a media pass you've given to the reporters in your own community (and probably other media folk) just hours before the concert starts will only result in frustration, and thusly, frustrated reporters who couldn't do their jobs properly.
I know that I don't necessarily look like a reporter, either. I look like just about every other young college girl that attends the festival.
I understand that I could have easily been an imposter who slipped on a lanyard with a phony press pass just trying to get backstage and cause trouble -- but I wasn't.
I was just trying to do my job, and fulfill the promise of having a glorious time at WE Fest.
Nice going, WE Fest security. Thanks to you, I don't know that I'll be coming back for another go after the run-around I got. (Although, having booked Tim McGraw as a headliner for 2009, it might be worth another shot.)