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Bobby Dorcy Jr. and Pete Larson, both of Maple Grove, Minn., construct a gazebo-like structure Tuesday in Lake Sallie Campground at Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes. Brian Basham / Forum Communications Co.

New Jumbotron, VIP upgrades at WE Fest this year

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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - The final preparations are being put together for this year's WE Fest, but the country music festival's owner is already building for the future.

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Rand Levy took over the event when his former co-owners, Jeff Krueger and Chyrll Weimar-Sparks, retired in November. Levy has invested not only in this year's concerts, which kick off with a free Jerrod Niemann pre-show tonight before the fest gets going in earnest Thursday, but also improvements for years to come.

Fans will notice a new Jumbotron on the back of the upper grandstand for the crowd on the east side of the venue. The other screens have been upgraded to high-definition.

Levy employed a sound and light crew from Nashville, Tenn., and more delay towers of speakers have been added to increase sound quality.

VIP fans will notice new, permanent stadium seats, purchased from Comiskey Park, home of the Chicago White Sox. Previously, the seats had been stackable white, plastic deck chairs.

"We've upgraded the VIP experience to make it more resemble what a VIP experience should be," Levy said Tuesday afternoon between phone calls.

Levy walked from the Saloon to the Barn Stage on the north side of the facility to show off the work done in the area, expanding, paving and grading the lawn in front of the stage.

The revamped outdoor area, with a shade stretched above the grass, could hold between 3,000 and 4,000 tonight for Niemann's set. The space will also be used for a songwriter's showcase hosted by hit-maker Chas Sandford every night at 7:45.

Levy also said permanent bathrooms would be pushed back and improved, making the space more viable for other shows.

Levy was happy with the first High Plains Fest, held over the July Fourth weekend, and will build on the showcase of roots rock and jam bands for next year.

Asked if he could see the festival becoming another 10,000 Lakes Festival, a jam band gathering that ended after drawing 17,000 in 2009, Levy answered emphatically.

"No. I lost a million dollars on that, and I'm not going to try to lose a million dollars."

But he's already excited about next year's 30th WE Fest. With a reunited Alabama set to headline one night, the other two headlining acts would be announced this week.

"I want to reach back and pick up a few WE Fest favorites and mix with some current stars and some up-and-comers," Levy said.

This year, he's looking forward to seeing Charlie Daniels play Thursday evening. The singing fiddler was one of the first acts Levy booked back in the mid-1970s for $500.

A tour of the campgrounds revealed Willie Nelson's Friday evening set was anticipated. One fan just hoped The Red Headed Stranger doesn't bring the Texas heat.

"This is a nice respite from the weather we've been having in Texas," said Audie Bradshaw of Plano, Texas.

Bradshaw's set-up in the Lake Sally Campground featured American, Texas and University of North Dakota flags flying above his tent and the truck he drove 2,500 miles decked with two Texas flags.

"This is the best place to see this many bands for the money," Bradshaw said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter John Lamb at (701) 241-5533

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