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Rain doesn't put damper on WE Fest

Eric Church wowed the crowd this year and will headline at WE Fest next year. Photo by Brian Basham1 / 4
Mary Koch of Loretto, Minn., Maddie Mithun of Wayzata, Minn., Stephanie Twelves of Wayzata and Kate Bata of Wayzata laugh and dance in the front row of the VIP section of WE Fest Thursday night as Luke Bryan played his main stage performance. Photo by Brian Basham2 / 4
Steve Martin was there with his award-winning bluegrass band. Photo by Brian Basham3 / 4
Playing in the mud after a storm at WE Fest. Photo by Brian Basham4 / 4

Despite a monsoon-like deluge of rain that briefly shut down the concert bowl at the Soo Pass Ranch Friday night, the weekend's 30th anniversary celebration of the WE Fest country music festival was an unqualified success, organizers say.

In fact, according to FACE Concerts Vice President John Gourley, for the first time in its 30-year history, tickets and camping passes were both completely sold out.

"We're still waiting for the actual, final (attendance) numbers," Gourley said Monday. "But what I do know is that we had more campers than we've ever had before.

"We did sell out. It was a huge, huge year for us."

(Last Thursday, Gourley had already estimated the attendance at about 28,000 campers, and 48,000 festival-goers overall.)

The only real glitch occurred Friday night, when a massive thunderstorm rolled through Becker County at around 7:45 p.m. But even that turned out not to be as bad as it might have been, Gourley said, because the brunt of the storm passed through during the break between Brantley Gilbert's set and that of Steve Martin & the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Unfortunately, the anticipated high winds that accompanied the rains prompted organizers to shut down the concert venue for a short time, causing many WE Festers to have to make a mad dash for their cars and tents to seek shelter.

"We have an emergency plan in place," Gourley said. "We worked closely with the county and all the other municipal entities to put that in place. Once we got that high wind warning, one of the pieces of that plan was to shut the concert bowl down. It's always good to be proactive.

"We have a whole weather radar viewing system in our communications area, and we also have spotters out in the field to get us that real time feedback," Gourley added. "We knew well in advance that it was coming.

"We did get that heavy burst of rain, but the wind turned out to really not be that much (of a problem). The rain was a little bit of a cleanup issue for us, but we had everything well in hand, other than being a little wet out there."

Fortunately, that didn't seem to be a problem for either Steve Martin and his bluegrass group, or headliner Toby Keith, who despite an hour and a half delay, both completed their full sets, Gourley said.

"It was nice of both Steve and Toby to be patient and stick around to do their full sets. That was a very nice thing for the audience, and they both got great responses from the crowd."

While there were intermittent rains on Saturday, no further weather delays occurred, Gourley added -- the fact that the festival's final headliner, Alabama, started their set a half hour late was due to technical issues rather than the weather.

To make up the time difference, the festival's final 30th anniversary surprise, a special fireworks show, was condensed into about 15 minutes, Gourley said.

Backstage happenings

Every year at WE Fest, there are always some good backstage stories to tell -- and this year was no exception, Gourley said.

On Thursday evening, featured performer Luke Bryan and headliner Jason Aldean both got an opportunity to meet one of their personal music idols, John Anderson, who played his set right before Bryan was scheduled to take the stage.

"Randy (Levy, WE Fest owner) was in a conversation with the three of them, and Colt Ford popped in," Gourley said. "Randy said, 'You know Colt, you need to talk to John about doing one of his classic hits, your way.'

"If that happened, it would be a very cool deal -- and if it does, you'll know that it all started backstage at WE Fest, and it was Randy's idea."

Another interesting backstage story occurred Saturday night, when Eric Church, who performed an electrifying set right before show closer Alabama, secured a spot in the 2013 WE Fest lineup.

Church has joined Carrie Underwood and Keith Urban as the third and final confirmed headliner for the 31st annual festival, which is set to take place on Aug. 1-3, 2013.

Before he left the venue on Saturday, Church announced that he would be "back to burn this place down" in 2013, Gourley said.

"Next year's sales are again going at a record pace, which is amazing," he continued. "2013 is shaping up to be another incredible year, in terms of both talent and momentum. People are very excited about the mix of talent we've lined up already, and there's much more to come."

Tickets for the 31st annual WE Fest, "Livin' the Dream in 2013," are currently available online at, or by phone at 800-493-3378 (box office hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. CST, Monday through Friday).

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