Weather Forecast


A lot more than stars backstage

Email Sign up for Breaking News Alerts
Detroit Lakes Detroit Lakes,Minnesota 56501
Detroit Lakes Online
A lot more than stars backstage
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

With WE Fest officials estimating that 48,000 people were admitted into Soo Pass Ranch each day of this year's festival, the past week's preparation efforts were paramount.


A massive number of people, from campsite workers, parking employees, security and ushers to vendors, painters, stage crews and sound techs, are integral to creating and maintaining WE Fest weekend, arriving before fans and leaving long after campsites are vacated.

On Wednesday, the grounds were buzzing with people prepping for the party.

At Greek Flame Food, Tina Jones and Sylvia Davis of Miami were cleaning grills and chopping onions.

How do they prepare for thousands of hungry WE Festers?

"Very carefully," Jones answered.

"We do WE Fest every year," Davis said, adding that it's a part of the summer circuit she's worked for seven years. "I set up, I prep, I serve, I do everything there is to be done."

Neither woman seemed anxious about the upcoming flood of fans, instead calmly going about preparations.

Davis mentioned that customers aren't constant, but dictated by the concert.

"When the show's going on it stops; when the show's changing, that's when they eat," she said, calling the WE Fest crowd "fun," "social" and "hungry."

Several stands down, at The Honey Hole, the Kuehn family was making ready as well, cleaning counters and counting cheese curds, onion rings, chicken strips and the corn they're famous for roasting.

"With the cheese curds we start out with 25 cases, and we may have to reorder by Friday," Shawn Kuehn, who has run the stand with her brothers Wade and Ward for three years, said.

She added that they cater the corn in large amounts, as well.

"We may not sell all of it, but we'll sell most of it," she said of the weekend, which consists of 12-13 hour workdays.

"Headache, headache, headache," Ward said wryly of WE Fest prep, adding quickly, "Oh, God, it's a blast."

Working mostly with friends and family, both brother and sister say they have fun every year, enjoying the view and allowing employees to take their breaks during any acts they want to see.

"We come down the day before, usually," Ward said. "Once we're set up it runs smooth."

There aren't any difficulties?

"Besides the drunk rednecks, no."

He laughed, adding more seriously that the crowds don't cause trouble, beyond being a little loud.

And then, of course, there's the beer that makes them that way.

Virtual Hospitality coordinates with Miller Lite and Mike's Hard Lemonade to keep WE Fest's thirst quenched.

"We come from all different parts of the country," Rob Stephan of Albany, New York said. "We all come out for eight days. We've been doing this for five years."

On Wednesday, the crew opened and cleaned the five beer stands, which they manage for the weekend.

"And we also sing karaoke," Stephan added with a laugh.

"It's really a fun event," he said, noting that WE Fest's security and wristband system prevent underage drinking.

Meanwhile, a crew of riggers sat on the main stage, taking a break from their hefty concert contribution.

"We do all the roof work," Scot McGee said, adding, "It's a big roof."

There since the previous Friday night, the team puts the skin on the stage, pulls up chains and works with lights.

"Then we hang stuff for each band as they come in," McGee added, naming backdrops, banners and extra lights among the decorations.

Although it's a dangerous job, requiring them to work at heights up to 75 feet above stage level, the crew, which does similar work across a six-state area, hasn't had any accidents.

"Your life's on the line -- you make sure things are right," Doug Nusser said, adding that they also respond to changes in the weather, securing things as needed.

Although risky, it's a fun time, too.

"It's like a big jungle gym," McGee said with a grin.

Chris Devall of Tampa, Fla., has been working WE Fest since first attending 15 years ago, a testament to how much she enjoys it.

"I flew in on Sunday. I'll fly back out Tuesday," she said. "I don't want to miss a minute of this."

From selling beer tickets her first year, Devall has worked with backstage information 10-12 years, began hiring and employment this year and is known for her ability to calm people down and solve problems.

"My thing is to make everybody smile, solve the problem to everybody's satisfaction and make sure everybody's where they need to be," she said. "I just believe in customer service."

Bringing supplies like sunscreen, band-aids, cell phones, hammers and aloe vera, Devall keeps a list of every item that someone might need, making sure she has it when they do.

Devall said she loves working WE Fest because of the people she gets to spend it with.

"The music is great but the people are better," she said. "It's a long time, a lot of dedication for everyone.

"Here in these few days you get to see the culmination of everybody's efforts. It's like a little city coming to life."

How does she prepare for WE Fest?

"I smile. That's it."