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It’s not easy to be a WE Fest vendor

Patrick Tye of Chicago slices onions at the Greek Flame Foods stand in the concert bowl Wednesday. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

Any WE Fest attendee knows it’s not just about the music, but the overall experience of the festival.

WE Fest directors work hard to ensure that guests leave happy, and several changes in the type, location and accessibility of the vendors at this year’s fest promise to make the experience better than ever.

It’s not just any vendor that gets to peddle their wares on the WE Fest grounds.

A committee begins by making sure that prospective vendors live up to WE Fest standards.

It has set up an application and vetting process which ensures their sellers will not only be offering what concert attendees want, but a smile and first-rate service while they’re selling.

“It’s all about a good attitude,” said John Gourley, chief marketing officer for Festivals and Concert Events (FACE), the company which operates WE Fest.

He added that they pick their vendors to “make sure that they fit the way WE Fest does things.”

One big change the festival saw this year was more vendors venturing outside the concert bowl.

Food and drinks are now available in the multiple campsites located all around the concert site to cater to the crowds of campers.

Locally harvested firewood is also available in the campgrounds to keep bonfires burning brightly.

“They’re open 24/7,” Gourley said, giving campers full access to fair style foods, and even breakfast foods.

A few of the specialty vendors campers can find right outside their tents are Wild West Wings in the Blue Ox and Hilltop campgrounds and Lush Lola’s, known for their “Drunken-Pig Sandwich,”  in Oatfield.

Inside the bowl, they’ve also amped up their retail and dining services.

The V.I.P. seating area features old seating reclaimed from Wrigley Field in Chicago. And taking a page from every baseball stadium’s book, the V.I.P. and reserved sections have roaming “hawkers” providing refreshments for concert-goers.

“We’ve had massive success with that,” Gourley said.

A wander through the row of vendors lining the general admission area will also reveal the changes that have taken place over the past 12 months of preparation for the festival.

Classics like Oof-Da Tacos, Papa John’s Pizza, and various fair foods are available, along with some more unexpected options like pitas and corn on the cob.

 “What we’ve spent a lot of time on this year is adding new vendors, and different types,” Gourley said.

And it’s not just the food and drinks, but fashion and souvenir items which have become a draw for festival attendees. Gourley cited a recent article in Vogue Magazine which outlines fashion trends at summer festivals.

“It’s become a big deal… we try to respond to that,” he said.

Country-western fashion items like hats and boots can be found on the concert grounds, keeping in theme with the music. T-shirts, baseball caps and Mardi-Gras style beads are also in demand.

The Trading Post brings together several different clothing sellers, and offers fitting rooms to try on before you buy.

There is also a bazaar-like area with multiple vendors.

“It’s a whole mixed-bag of what I’d call ‘hippie’ stuff,” Gourley said with a laugh.

But, he added, he expects the new items to be big sellers during this year’s festival.

Another way they’ve attempted to connect vendors and patrons is with a big technological upgrade.

With the debut of the WE Fest app, users now have access to an interactive map which shows them exactly where their favorite vendors will be set up.

Users can set down virtual ‘pins’ anywhere on the map, perhaps to let their  friends know where they got those delicious cheese curds or cool cowboy hat.

The app is designed to streamline the WE Fest experience, eliminating some of the confusion which comes along with so many different vendors and events going on each day.

“That’s one of the things that sets WE Fest apart… you can plan your day the way you want,” Gourley said, adding that the app is designed to help festival-goers do just that.

He said that they’ve done their best to keep improving the festival each summer, and to make sure that the campgrounds and concert area provide an experience that will entice guests to come back year after year.

“There’s just no other facility like this,” Gourley said.