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Opinion: WE Fest is worth its weight in gold (records)

Detroit Lakes has been noticeably busier all week — There are more cars and bicyclists on the streets, and more trucks making deliveries to stores and restaurants that are stocking up for WE Fest.

The big country music festival runs Thursday through Saturday, but campers seem to arrive earlier these days — something that’s encouraged by the Soo Pass Ranch, which even hosted a pre-event musical celebration for its early-bird guests.

It’s difficult to over emphasize the impact WE Fest has on Detroit Lakes — it brings tens of thousands of people to the area — but the conservative estimate is an economic impact of $60 million a year from WE Fest.

Livin’ the Dream in 2013 won’t be any exception. The headliners are Keith Urban on Thursday night, Carrie underwood on Friday night and Eric Church on Saturday night. Comfortable summer weather is forecast Thursday through Sunday, with highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s and little chance of rain.

That’s good news for the crowds that will pack the natural amphitheater at the Soo Pass Ranch that holds up to 50,000 people.

Just like it’s easy to take WE Fest for granted after more than 30 years, it’s easy to forget how much investment has been made in infrastructure by the owners. WE Fest was founded in 1983 by Jeff Krueger, who was joined by Rand Levy and Chyrll Sparks in 1985. In 2010, Levy became the sole owner.

WE Fest has been one of the leading country music festivals in the nation, twice nominated for the Country Music Association’s prestigious Best Special Event award. But the Soo Pass Ranch didn’t get there by itself: Infrastructure and service improvements have been made every year — sometimes big improvements, sometimes little ones, often both, but always a constant betterment of the site. Now, the Soo Pass Ranch has a permanent stage and backstage compound, including air-conditioned dressing rooms with running water, catering and production facilities, including permanent sound towers and mix station, according to the WE Fest website. The concert bowl hosts 50 permanent concession stands, with room for dozens more portable concession booths.

Owners have invested heavily in developing the concert site, including bringing city sewer and water lines to the ranch, which allows for running water, and permanent restrooms in the concert bowl. The 10 Soo Pass Ranch campgrounds are safely accessed through pedestrian underpasses beneath Highway 59 and County Road 22, which flank the concert bowl. Those campgrounds are well taken care of, with lighting and permanent shower houses. They have multiple lane entrances, which allows for a faster entrance for campers. The Soo Pass Ranch has over 9,000 campsites.

WE Fest is put on by Festival and Concert Events Inc., which employs year-round sales, marketing and administrative staff. Add in the locals who work part-time at WE Fest and the non-profit groups that raise funds through the festival, and it’s easy to see how much the festival would be missed if it went away.

WE Fest is worth its weight in gold records to the economy of Detroit Lakes ­ ­­-- and it’s a ton of fun, as well. If you’re not too busy making money, get out and enjoy it.