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10KLF puts on great show -- but fewer see it

DETROIT LAKES - It wasn't a banner year for the 10,000 Lakes Festival. A 17-year-old girl died of as-yet unknown causes while camping at the festival, and organizers say an upstart concert in Wisconsin cut attendance at 10KLF to half of the 15,000 fans who showed up last year.

"From an organizational standpoint, it was the best it's ever been," said Chyrll Sparks of FACE, Inc., a partner in 10KLF. "The event has matured. After six years, we have all the operating systems in place."

The We B Green recycling goal of 20 percent was exceeded, with about 30 percent of waste generated by concert-goers recycled, Sparks said.

Because it was the first year of the recycling program, truckloads of garbage and recycling material were all weighed to establish a baseline for future years, she said.

"Musically, it was an extremely interesting show," she said. "The Flaming Lips was astounding - unlike anything else that's ever been on our stage ... But all of that was offset by the tragic loss of a girl. There's no way to explain how terrible it makes you feel. We're trying to do celebration music, to get people together to do a really nice thing..."

After two people died at the festival last year, organizers "spent a year trying to address the justifiable concerns of people in the community," Sparks said. "It's just demoralizing to realize you can't control everything, we're just human beings ... We've done everything in our power to address what is a community-wide problem."

Concert-goers had nothing but praise for the way the festival was organized. A couple from Nashville, who regularly attend the huge Bonnaroo jam festival in Tennessee, said facilities at the Soo Pass Ranch make 10,000 Lakes Fest a joy in comparison to most jam festivals, including Bonnaroo, which can draw 85,000 people.

It wasn't so much high gas prices as new competition that cut attendance in half at 10KLF this year, Sparks said.

The Rothbury Music Festival near Lake Michigan in Wisconsin featured popular acts including Dave Matthews, Snoop Dog and Widespread Panic.

"Their lineup was amazing," Sparks said. And with half the fan base for 10KLF from out-of-state, it was just as easy for fans to travel to Wisconsin as Minnesota.

The Rothbury Music Festival was not without tragedy of its own -- a man and a woman died there in separate medical emergencies the same day.

Autopsies have been completed, but no cause of death was found. Toxicology reports are expected in three to four weeks.

In spite of disappointing attendance, Sparks said there are no plans to cancel 10,000 Lakes Festival.

"We're hoping to grow the show back for next year," she said.

Promoter and 10KLF co-owner Dan Shaw of Cleveland could not be reached for comment.

It was a relatively quiet festival this year, said Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon. "It was a different crowd," he said. There were fewer drug sales, even though there were just as many undercover and full-time officers as last year, and not many other problems with festival-goers.

Organized drug dealers from the East Coast seemed to give the festival a miss this year.

"The message is out that we hit narcotics hard -- if they come to Becker County, they're going to get messed with," Gordon said.

The county even sent an officer to Ohio to bring back a man on a warrant for charges stemming from drug sales at 10KLF, Gordon said.

"It sends the message loud and clear that no matter where you're from, we're going to go after you," he added. "If we don't go, it sends the message that all you have to do is leave the state and you're safe -- we aren't going to send that message."

In all, there were 30 people arrested at 10KLF this year, seven for selling drugs, five for possessing drugs, seven for driving while intoxicated, five for trespassing, public nuisance and similar offenses, three on warrants, two for simple assault and one minor for consuming alcohol.