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10K still no WE Fest

DETROIT LAKES - As she has every year since its inception in 2003, Dawn Olson will work in the lost-and-found booth at the 10,000 Lakes Festival this weekend.

Once again, the lineup at the eclectic music festival - which kicks off in full today at Soo Pass Ranch four miles south of Detroit Lakes, Minn. - is a mystery to Olson, manager of the Washington Square Mall in Detroit Lakes.

"I have no clue who any of them are," Olson said of the bands. "That's just how it is."

It's not an isolated sentiment, and it's not just about the relative obscurity of the bands. Compared to the other multiday music-and-camping event at Soo Pass Ranch - the bigger and older country-music festival WE Fest - 10,000 Lakes has not been as embraced by the surrounding community.

That's part of the reason why 10,000 Lakes is paying a new $20,000 fee in connection with its county zoning permit.

"They've really established themselves as a trademark here, so to speak," Becker County Administrator Brian Berg said of the country-music festival that began in 1983. "WE Fest is an identifier in Detroit Lakes, and 10,000 Lakes is not."

The permit fee was added for 10,000 Lakes despite WE Fest producing much more work for county law enforcement officers, said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon.

"There's a pretty direct correlation between the amount of people and the workload," Gordon said. WE Fest usually draws just short of 50,000 a day, compared to 10K's top crowds of 15,000. "It puts a bigger burden on dispatch and the jail, that's for sure," Gordon said of WE Fest.

Festival organizers were initially opposed to the fee hike, said Chyrll Sparks, a spokeswoman for both events.

"We thought, 'We're doing our fair share,' " she said. "But then we accepted their position because we understand the financial constraints everybody's under."

Considering organizers expect a drop in 10K attendance this year of about 10 percent - meaning a crowd of about 13,500 or so, Sparks said - coughing up an extra $20,000 did smart. It's cash that could have gone to extra amenities or to book bigger bands.

"It is a substantial amount of money, but it's a small piece of our security budget. That's how we look at it," Sparks said.

Berg said the fee was negotiated with FACE Inc., the company that produces both festivals, and wasn't tied to specific estimates of the costs associated with each event - which in addition to security includes on-site environmental and zoning regulators and court costs.

"That's why we negotiated a lump sum," he said. "We didn't want to get into that."

Separate contracts with the Sheriff's Department for security and, in the case of WE Fest, traffic control, are linked to how much work each event requires, Gordon said. Those agreements cost 10K up to $10,000 and WE Fest about $30,000, he said.

Olson said she thinks part of the reason 10,000 Lakes isn't as celebrated by locals as much as WE Fest is the crowd it draws. The country festival draws most of its large audience from the region. 10,000 Lakes publicist Dave Weissman said slightly less than 50 percent of the advance sales for 10K come from states other than North Dakota and Minnesota.

Culturally, the difference is between Stetsons and tie-dye, and Olson thinks the latter is something area residents aren't accustomed to.

"There's no question about that. We're a pretty conservative region," she said. "Part of the deal with meeting people who are different than we are is being open-minded about it."

Olson said she believes tighter security has made 10K more palatable to locals.

"It has definitely changed. It's more controlled. Unlawful behavior is not allowed," said Olson, who added that a few more mainstream acts might also broaden the regional appeal of 10,000 Lakes.

Sparks agreed that booking bands with a wider pull might help bolster 10K's standing in its own backyard, though some attempts to do that - such as a 2004 set by John Mayer - did not go over well with festival attendees.

"In order for this show to continue to grow, it's got to have a bigger base," she said. "Maybe that's a little bit on us."

Sparks, who believes local acceptance of 10K is getting better, said part of the trouble is marketing. Calling it a jam-band festival probably turns some people off, but advertising 10K as a rock festival risks making people "think they're coming to Moondance Jam.

"On the ground, the audience at 10K is really here for the music. They don't drive across the country just to party," she said.