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Festival spreads joy while raising funds for Refuge programs

Hope Fest spectators sing along with Ottertail Christian rock band Firestarters during Hope Fest in Detroit Lakes Saturday evening. BRIAN BASHAM/TRIBUNE

When morning dawned on the final day of Hope Fest, organizer Mel Manning’s prayers were answered: The chances of rainfall in the day’s forecast had dropped from 60 percent to zero.

“I feel it was an absolute miracle, the weather we got on Saturday,” Manning said. “It seemed like the good Lord cleared the clouds out for us.”

Sunshine was the order of the day Saturday, which was Hope Fest’s biggest day, with seven bands scheduled to take the stage at the concert site on North Tower Road.

Though Manning said he really had no idea how many people attended the second annual event — there was no admission fee charged, just a small charge for parking on the grounds — he judged that there were probably “a couple thousand” people milling through the grounds over the course of the three days.

“It’s hard to say how many there were, because they were so scattered around the grounds,” he said.

At least a couple hundred people were in attendance for the final performance of the festival, as Petra, dubbed “the pioneers of Christian rock,” took the stage for a rare appearance together since their official breakup in 2006.

“Petra was unbelievable,” Manning said. “I could not believe how good they sounded. They haven’t worked together that much recently, but you could never tell that they had been parted. It certainly didn’t sound that way.

“They gave their all — we were 100 percent satisfied with the performance of all the bands this year. Dallas Holm and Aubree Bullock (the other two headliners for the three-day festival) did a beautiful job, as did all the bands.”

The festival also boasted a large arts and crafts fair, with a couple dozen vendors showing unique jewelry, paintings, pottery and other artwork.

And of course, there was plenty of food, with the usual “fest fare” such as corn dogs, hamburgers and cheeseburgers, deep-fried Snickers and Twinkies as well as pop and coffee. There was also something a bit more unique for the adventurous — a “pitchfork steak fondue” where large steaks were actually placed on pitchforks before dipping them into the flames for cooking.

Though the festival’s stated purpose is to raise funds for The Refuge Christian Outreach Center, Manning — the nonprofit organization’s founder — says that Hope Fest is about more than raising money.

“We don’t have all the figures together yet, but we were hoping to make a couple thousand and I think we’ll do that,” he said.

“I look at it this way. This is only our second year, and if we can break even, that’s a very successful event. It is a fundraiser for us, but you can’t just measure (success) by the finances.

“Seeing all the churches, all the people coming together, the unity and the love… overall, we’re happy and we feel it was very, very successful.”

Manning also feels the festival was successful in getting the word out about all that the Refuge does in the community, from operating a coffee shop (Solid Grounds), thrift store (Helping Hand) and men’s homeless shelter (Compassion House), to serving free meals three nights a week as well as a variety of other spiritual outreach services.

“It wasn’t perfect,” Manning said. “There were some things we need to correct for next year, but overall we feel the whole festival got very high ratings. We’ve gotten no bad reports from anyone. I myself am very pleased with the way it went.

“We’re already looking forward to next year’s event.”

Manning also noted how grateful he was for the contributions of all the sponsors and volunteers who helped make the festival a success.

“We’re very appreciative of everybody… the sponsors, the promoters, the volunteers,” he said, adding a special note of thanks for the efforts of WE Fest founder Jeff Krueger, who volunteered to help organize and promote this year’s festival.

“It was all very, very good.”

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

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