In the beginning of its 37-year run at the Soo Pass Ranch south of Detroit Lakes, WE Fest had a reputation for being a home-grown music festival that made its guests feel like part of the family — and Matt Mithun, the Minnesota-based entrepreneur who recently signed on to partner with Live Nation in presenting WE Fest 2021, hopes to bring some of that flavor back to the event.
"We want to kind of bring back that personal touch ... to make it a community event again," said Mithun in a Wednesday phone interview. "Going up there (to attend the festival) for 30-plus years, I got to know so many people, so well.
"It's nice when you're entering the campgrounds, or coming in to the festival at whatever security gate, and see a familiar face," he added.
Mithun said with that in mind, they plan to make it a priority to hire local for staffing the festival, in 2021 and beyond. The dates for 2021 are Aug. 5-7.
"We definitely want to hire locally," he said. "The partnerships and interaction with the community are a very important part of it (the festival)."
Besides bringing back WE Fest's local flavor, Mithun says updating the facilities at the Soo Pass Ranch will also be a priority for the next couple of years.
"There are a number of things we want to do to enhance the site," he said, adding that they plan to make improvements to the buildings, the site layout, and the overall concert experience. "There are some things we'll be doing for 2020-21, and some for 2021-22. I'll be happy to share more of those details as we develop them in the coming months."
Mithun's family has owned the 400-acre ranch just south of Detroit Lakes for most of the festival's 37-year run at the site, which made it a natural fit for him to partner with Live Nation, the festival's new owners, to handle the production side of the three-day annual event.
"My dad bought the Soo Pass 35 years ago, just a couple of years after the festival started," Mithun said, "so we've been involved with it for a long time.
"I own and operate another concert venue in Wisconsin, the Somerset Amphitheater, and I've been involved in the production side there for several years," he added. "I've got a lot of experience with it, and I enjoy that role, so when this opportunity came along, it made a lot of sense for me to do it."
One new challenge this year, as it has been for music venues across the globe, is planning for COVID-19 safety restrictions.
"As we're going about our planning, we're always thinking about the safety measures we'll have to take," he said. "There's a lot to that (process), and it's ever changing, as more information comes out. We're working hard to make it as safe an event as possible, but at the same time, we're excited to be bringing entertainment back to the people."
As for the actual musical lineup in 2021, Mithun said they will begin to announce those acts once tickets go on sale this coming week.
"We're going to start ticket renewals (for people who attended the festival in 2019) right at the beginning of December, which is when we'll also start announcing our performers, and then shortly after that, we'll have our tickets go on sale to the general public," Mithun said.
"We're very excited to be having another festival, and we look forward to welcoming people back," he added.
The festival website, wefest.com, will have details on music and camping ticket options.