New things this year at WE Fest
The 2014 incarnation of WE Fest is now less than two months away, and organizers are hoping that this year’s country music extravaganza is the most successful to date.
In an ever-evolving quest to give festival attendees the best concert-going and/or camping experience of their lives, WE Fest staff has been hard at work making a wide array of improvements.
“We’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and financial resources in terms of continuing to enhance the audience experience at this show,” says John Gourley, chief marketing officer for Festivals And Concert Events (FACE), Inc., the corporate entity that produces the annual country music festival south of Detroit Lakes.
As an example, for all of those festival-goers who have lost their way between campsite/park-ing space and concert bowl, or who have misplaced their companions in the crowd, such geographic and logistical struggles will soon become all but a thing of the past — by the time the 32nd annual WE Fest rolls around on Aug. 7, there will be a smart phone app to help you with that.
“It’s one of the big things we’ve been working on, for about a year now,” Gourley said. “It’s going roll out a few weeks before the show.”
Though it seems there’s a phone app for just about everything these days, he added, there are a few unique things about the new WE Fest app that will make it a “must-have” tool for all concert goers, whether they are VIPs or sitting in general admission.
“It will have a site map with all the campgrounds, and a concert schedule including precisely where and when everyone is performing,” Gourley said. “We will have a list of all the food and shopping vendors (and their locations in the venue), and each day the app will feature some specials, some specific things ‘on sale’ that will make it something that is really valuable for our guests to have.”
The new app will also be “GPS friendly,” he added, which means that guests will be able to “pin” the precise location of their campsite or car on the site map.
“It will also be a way for your friends to find you, or for you to find your friends,” Gourley added, because you can also “pin” your own location on the map at any given time.
“We think the app will be super popular and highly utilized,” he added. “We’ve spent a ton of time building features into it far beyond what a normal app of this type would have.”
The new WE Fest app will also give users an opportunity to get the jump on buying tickets for next year’s festival, Gourley said.
“Our 2015 show goes on sale July 7 at 7 a.m.,” he added. “We’re already getting a bunch of calls and e-mails relative to when the tickets will be on sale. For the past four years they have been selling more quickly than ever before.”
This is particularly true of the reserved and VIP seating, which is selling out earlier and earlier each year. In fact, this year’s show only has a limited number of general admission seats left — and those who are planning to go shouldn’t count on being able to purchase tickets at the gate, as they may have done in years past, Gourley cautioned.
Besides the new multi-purpose app, WE Fest organizers have been making a lot of other improvements around the grounds of the Soo Pass Ranch as well.
“We have continued to evolve the audience experience in terms of offering the best sound and the best video,” Gourley said. “We are building a giant control center, right behind the reserved seats, where the sound and video and lighting will all be controlled.”
The new control center will allow technicians to fine-tune the sound, lights and video to accommodate changes in the weather and adjust for different times of the day.
“We’ve done a ton of upgrades to the Barn Stage area that you’ll notice as well,” Gourley said.
And of course, the perks of being a WE Fest VIP have continued to evolve as well. Last year, a new private, members-only WE Club was added in the VIP Hospitality area backstage, complete with top-shelf beverages, gourmet food and even a small stage area to showcase up-and-coming local talent.
This year, the WE Club will be offering more music as well as live interviews with some of WE Fest’s featured Main Stage performers, all on the club’s private stage.
After Brainerd-based catering company Prairie Bay was brought on board to serve guests in the VIP area last year, Gourley said the company will be offering an expanded menu, “with more specialty items.”
One change set to be implemented this year that has been a bit more controversial is the decision to no longer allow any outside beverages — including water — to be brought inside the concert bowl through any of the main gate entrances.
This includes VIP guests, who in the past have been allowed to bring their official WE Fest mugs into the concert area, filled with the beverage of their choice, via any of the main gate entrances. VIP guests will now only be allowed to bring outside beverages directly into their designated hospitality seating areas — not through the main gates.
All concert goers will be allowed to bring in empty bottles and fill them with water at any of the city-plumbed facilities inside the concert bowl.
While this might not be as popular as some of the other upgrades, Gourley said the policy change was long overdue.
“There’s no other place I know of in the nation that allows it (outside beverages inside the concert area) — certainly none of this size,” he said. “We were probably the last venue in the country to make that change.”
Another change that guests will like is the relatively dust-free roads through the campgrounds and the concert venue.
“We’re working on treating all the main roads with a new product, to minimize dust during peak travel hours so people will notice a huge difference,” Gourley said. “I expect we’ll see a lot of positive comments on that.”
Gourley also feels that this year’s lineup is one of the strongest that they’ve had, with a mix of new, “hot” performers like Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert and Ashley Monroe as well as tour headliners like Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean.
And of course, there is the Zac Brown Band, which surprisingly will be making their WE Fest debut this year.
“He’s never been here before,” Gourley said of Brown. “We’ve been trying to get him for years, and the routing never worked.”
Chart-toppers The Band Perry will also be making their first appearance at WE Fest, and “we have an unbelievable series of headliners popping up this year,” Gourley added.
Many of the lesser-known acts will be following up their Main Stage debut at WE Fest with a set on the Barn Stage, which Gourley likens to Nashville’s Bluebird Café as a venue for showcasing new acts that are on the cusp of hitting it big.
WE Fest tickets and camping packages are available online at wefest.com, or by phone at 800-493-3378 (box office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST Monday through Friday).
Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.