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WE Fest changes


WE Fest has seen a lot of change over the past 25 years --from a place where horses once grazed, to a permanent music venue that holds over 60,000 people.

This week marks the 25th anniversary of the country music festival. WE Fest has seen big name acts such as Johnny Cash, Alabama, Hank Williams Jr., Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings.

Nelson, who played WE Fest in 1988, 1995 and 1997, was scheduled to return this year, but canceled due to health problems.

In more recent years bands like Big & Rich, Gary Allan and Kenny Chesney have showed up to entertain the crowds.

Two men who have been with the festival for over 20 years are Jimmy Fletcher and Jimmy (J.W.) Worm.

Fletcher, who's been with the festival since year one, runs maintenance. He controls everything from toilet paper to telephones to staging to construction. "Anything and everything that comes through this place pretty much goes through me first," he said.

This year the crew had to construct two new entrances, move the stage back and build more bathrooms in addition to other projects. The festival has 450 toilets, and rents 100 more.

WE Fest builds every year, but this year is exceptionally busy. In 1993, the festival started building permanent facilities, and this year's amount of construction is comparable to that year.

Fletcher is in charge of a 40-person crew, and hires 40 more at the last minute to help set up. He recognizes their hard work and is grateful for it.

"I've got some good guys that really make a difference," said Fletcher.

Some of his employees have helped with WE Fest for over 15 years. "They have to want to do that," said Fletcher.

He is a fan of older country music like Waylon Jennings, Johnny Cash and Willie Nelson, but his favorite act has been Roy Orbison. "I actually turned my radio and phone off and watched his whole show. That's the only time I've ever done that," said Fletcher.

He knew WE Fest organizer Jeff Krueger, and helped his friend for free the first year. "They've got the money and I've got the muscle," joked Fletcher.

Jimmy Worm, better known simply as J.W., is the director of sponsorship and vender coordinator for the festival. He's a retired paramedic who's been working with WE Fest for 21 years. He grew up with Jeff Krueger and was selling emergency vehicles when he first came and saw the show.

"I've been hooked since," said J.W.

It's a tough transition from fixing bones and selling emergency vehicles to negotiating contracts, but J.W. has been able to do it.

"I've always done sales and marketing, whether it's emergency vehicles or sponsors and venders," he said.

He talks to potential sponsors and vendors, and sets up contracts with them during the fall and winter. They also discuss special promotions. During the festival he makes sure vendors and sponsors have a good time.

WE Fest hasn't always had this many sponsors, but the list seemed to grow as attendance increased.

"It was a growing process, but we have a real strong sponsorship program now," said J.W.

He enjoys the support the local community has given the festival, even when it first started.

"Through they years we've had great local support. They took a chance years ago and supported it, and now it's a win-win situation for the town and WE Fest," J.W. said.

The hardest part of his job comes when the festival is going on. He admits it's challenging to keep 2,000 people -- vendors, sponsors and their clients -- happy at all times.

But his job with the sponsors has gotten easier over the years, because he's worked hard on building working relationships with them.

"We know the people and we've grown old with them," J.W. said.