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WE Fest attendance 'best ever'

After three days of neighborly camping and boot-stomping concerts, WE Fest organizers and Becker County authorities had more reasons Monday to be feeling great in 2008 - estimated record attendance and fewer arrests for the fifth straight year.

While official attendance figures aren't expected until the end of the week, WE Fest president Jeff Krueger said Thursday's count was a "strong" 48,000 and could approach 49,000, or 1,000 less than campground capacity at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Friday's attendance was roughly 48,000, followed by about 47,000 on Saturday, Krueger estimated.

"I can say that it was the best year we ever had, in terms of attendance," he said.

Becker County Sheriff Tim Gordon said arrests were down for the fifth consecutive year.

Police arrested 59 people in and around the campgrounds for behavior related to the the three-day festival, compared with 88 arrests during WE Fest 2007.

"As far as the event went, it was a very well-mannered crowd for the most part, very few issues of a serious nature, so we're happy," Gordon said.

Authorities arrested 31 people for driving while intoxicated and 28 for misdemeanors such as disorderly conduct and trespass. Charges were pending in two cases as a result of domestic disputes, and five people were taken into custody on outstanding warrants.

The Sheriff's Department also is investigating a sexual assault that reportedly happened on the campgrounds, Gordon said. Details were not released.

Some motorists dealt with traffic delays as people had to cross roads because the campground's tunnel system couldn't handle all of the concertgoers, Gordon said.

Authorities have taken a more proactive approach to the festival in recent years, and campers have grown accustomed to seeing regular patrols in the campgrounds, Gordon said. It wasn't uncommon five or six years ago to tally 110 to 130 arrests during the festival, he said.

"So, we have more people coming to the event, and behavior is exceptional," he said.

Krueger said the festival's first "WE B Green" recycling program created a more positive and welcoming atmosphere for campers.

Workers were still sorting the aluminum, plastic and other recyclables on Monday. As of Sunday, the program had reduced the festival's waste stream to the landfill by 27 percent, Krueger said.

"It just really set a nice tone for the event," he said.

Cooperative weather and performances by Brad Paisley, Kenny Chesney and others also helped make the event a success, he said.

Advance ticket sales are on pace for another banner WE Fest in 2009, Krueger said. Tim McGraw is booked for one night, he said.

"I know that we're on stride from last year, and it's well over $1 million that we've taken in already," he said.

WE Fest emcee Tom Katt announced from the stage Saturday that The Eagles could be playing next year's festival, as well.

Krueger said on Monday that he "can't comment on any of the deals we're doing right now," and he hopes to announce another artist within the next month.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528