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Inaugural High Plains Festival a success

HIGH PLAINS Festival headliners Trampled By Turtles did double duty Saturday night, providing backup for singer-songwriter Caroline Smith (at right) as well as performing a lengthy set of their own later in the evening1 / 3
Smith, a Detroit Lakes native, made several references to how much she enjoyed being back home. The festival drew about 1,200 music lovers over the holiday weekend.2 / 3
DETROIT LAKES' OWN hARDWOOD GROOVE kicked off Saturday night's music lineup at the High Plains Festival, performing on the High Plains Reader stage.3 / 3

Three out of four days of near-perfect weather, a plethora of talented musicians and a well-behaved, happy group of campers made the inaugural High Plains Festival a modest success for Festivals And Concert Events (FACE), Inc., over the July 4 holiday weekend.

"It went great -- about as well as it could go," said festival promotions director David Larson. "The weather was perfect."

"We had close to 400 units" at the Northwoods Campground, said festival media director and operations manager Bob Bliss. "That's about half of what we're rated for (i.e., maximum capacity), so it wasn't full, but it was a very successful first-time event."

The estimated crowd at Saturday night's main event at the Soo Pass Ranch -- a paid-attendance concert featuring Pert Near Sandstone, (Detroit Lakes native) Caroline Smith and headliners Trampled by Turtles -- was approximately 1,200 people, Larson added.

The above-mentioned bands all played on the newly-renovated Summit Stage -- so rechristened in honor of festival sponsors Summit Brewing Company -- while inside the Soo Pass saloon, the High Plains Reader Stage played host to even more area bands, including Detroit Lakes' own Hardwood Groove, Nathan Miler & Unstoppable Company, and Sovereign Sect.

As an added bonus, there were two more nights of music -- Friday and Sunday --  where admission and parking were available free of charge, to both festival campers and area residents.

On Friday, featured musicians included the Michael Pink Band, The Further Adjustments, O'Fosho and headliners Four on the Floor.

The Johnson Family Band headlined the Sunday night lineup, which also featured Fargo-Moorhead area favorites Amanda Standalone and Inside Out Strings as well as Twin Cities standouts Boys 'N the Barrels.

"The bands were great," Bliss said. "I haven't heard a negative comment from anybody about the music."

And that's not even mentioning all the music that could be found in the campgrounds throughout the weekend, as many of the featured bands chose to spend the weekend camping at the Soo Pass.

"I heard rumors of a Saturday night jam session with Trampled By Turtles, the Johnson Family, Boys 'N the Barrels, Pert Near Sandstone -- pretty much all the bands who camped here," Larson said. "They just sat down at the campfire and played for a couple of hours."

Saturday night headliners Trampled By Turtles contributed their talents to some of the other acts performing at the festival as well: They served as the backing band for Caroline Smith on Saturday, and fiddler Ryan Young joined the Johnson Family Band on stage for Sunday night's performance as well.

In fact, several of the musicians performing during the festival appeared with multiple acts, Larson noted.

"That's part of the intimacy of a small festival like this one," he said. "There was spontaneous jamming erupting all weekend long at the campgrounds."

In fact, Larson noted, he saw a full drum kit set up in the campgrounds Saturday night, which was "something new and different."

"The people who stay at the campgrounds become part of the entertainment," he said.

Though there were a healthy number of campers staying at the Soo Pass, Larson noted, it didn't seem as though the closure of the area's state park camping facilities had much of an effect.

"We got a few calls, but I'm not sure if anyone showed up (for last minute camping)," he said.

The campers staying at the Soo Pass through the weekend were also quite well behaved, Bliss said.

"There was no trouble," he said. "Everybody was well behaved, and the campgrounds were clean."

Bliss also said he heard a lot of compliments about the sound quality, both on the renovated Summit Stage and inside the saloon.

"They (the sound technicians) did an excellent job," he said. "The new stage went off well. Everyone who played out there loved it."

Overall, Bliss said, he was very pleased, both by the attendance and the quality of the music offered. "We're real happy with how it went -- everything went smoothly on site," he said.

Plans are already in motion for a second annual High Plains Fest, he added, though no dates have been finalized as yet.

"Our hope is to bring Trampled By Turtles back," he continued.

"We'd kind of like them (TBT) to make this festival their home for a while," Larson added.

Both Bliss and Larson noted that they were also pleased by the show of local support for the festival.

"There were a lot of local people out here," Bliss said. "There was a real good local show of support, and everybody was well behaved."

The campers staying at the festival also got the opportunity to sample some of the holiday weekend festivities around the lakes; in fact, the Fun Bus came over from Moorhead to provide shuttle rides for festival campers to and from the Otter Tail River for tubing.

"That went very well," Bliss said. "It was part of our plan with this event not to compete with anything else in the community, but to promote the other activities going on in town, and to try to get our people (i.e., campers) into town to enjoy everything."

Though the dates for next year's festival have not yet been established, Bliss said he expects the setup to be "very similar" to this year's.

"We're definitely interested in continuing the event," he said, but noted that it will probably not take place on July 4 next year, as the holiday falls in the middle of the week.

For those who would still like an opportunity to enjoy the camping facilities at the Soo Pass Ranch this summer, there will be one more opportunity to do so: WE Fest is set to take place Aug. 4-6, and there are still camping and music packages available. For more information, visit

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454