Expect to see some old familiar staff members at WE Fest this year

There’s quite a few people that were here until 2015-16 that have come back," said new festival partner Matt Mithun. "They’re very helpful and a lot of fun -- they have a lot of knowledge going way back.” The Detroit Lakes country music festival has a kickoff party on Wednesday, Aug. 4, at Soo Pass Ranch. WE Fest continues Thursday, Aug. 5, through Saturday, Aug. 7.

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Workers were busy with the main stage at the Soo Pass Ranch on Monday. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

There are a lot of familiar faces around the WE Fest grounds this year, thanks to new festival partner Matt Mithun, who has brought back a lot of the local talent that used to keep WE Fest humming.

Take Mike Sandau, for example. He worked at WE Fest for more than 20 years before being replaced for the past few years. Now he’s back as the venue supervisor. On Monday, Aug. 2, he was working with Venue Manager Jessie Conn, moving crowd control barriers around with a Bobcat, ahead of the kickoff party on Wednesday, Aug. 4.

“A crew of volunteers will be coming in tomorrow, setting up lawn chairs,” he said. “A lot of familiar faces will be here this year.”

The 2020 WE Fest was canceled even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit. Live Nation bought WE Fest in 2019 and decided to take a year off. Mithun's family has owned Soo Pass for most of the festival's 37-year run at the site, making him a natural fit to partner with Live Nation, the festival's new owners, to handle the production side of the event.

At the concert bowl Monday, workers were bringing the stage skeleton back to life: Spreading the “skin” on the roof, and adding light and sound equipment. “It’s quite a process getting it all set up,” Mithun said. “It’s a ton of fun to watch.”
A truckload of ice freezers were being unloaded, sacks of fresh onions sat at a Mexican food booth, and vendor booths and hospitality tents were being readied and stocked.


A sea of campers and RVs were already set up at the VIP campgrounds, where workers listening to hard rock music were cleaning, stocking and setting up the interior of the Bob 95 Radio tent bar.

“This is the fun part of it -- seeing the site come together,” said Mithun. “There’s quite a few people that were here until 2015-16 that have come back. They’re very helpful and a lot of fun,” he said. “They have a lot of knowledge going way back.”

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Michelle walters of Fargo cleans up a Fireball whiskey statue at the BOB 95 tent in the VIP area at WE Fest on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)

About 1,500 staffers were hired and trained for this year’s three-day country music festival that officially starts on Thursday, Aug. 5, Mithun said. “That can be a tricky thing, but it came together,” he said.

It’s not just the old-time WE Fest employees that have institutional knowledge of the festival and the Soo Pass Ranch where it is held. “lt’s also the Lions Club and Boys and Girls Club and other volunteers,” Mithun said. “A lot of them fall into that category too -- encyclopedias of knowledge as far as the festival goes. They know about the food, the beer, the ambassador program -- little things, like where people can get water.”

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WE Fest maintenance workers Richard Erickson, left, of Vergas and Christopher Ward of Lake Park were putting up brand new Soo Pass Ranch maps on Monday, Aug. 2, 2021. (Nathan Bowe/Tribune)


Ticket sales are “right about where we hoped they’d be, after taking a year off (due to the COVID-19 pandemic)”” he added. "We had to work pretty quickly to get everything put together. We’ll just build it from here,” he said.

The festival will follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, masks will be available to those who want them, and the backstage area will be tightly controlled. “We’ve taken a lot of steps,” he said.

That doesn’t stop him from being pumped up about the festival. “We’re just excited,” he said. “Come on out!”

Starting Wednesday, “the Ranch House saloon is reopening -- it’s the building at the back of the (concert) bowl,” he said. “The Cadillacs will be on stage.”

The festival is also moving to enhance the general admission experience, moving seats closer to the stage, and planning a general admission sunken viewing area in front of the stage for next year. “It will be a cool thing for GA fans,” Mithun said. “We’re excited, absolutely.”

WE Fest is “good for the town, so I support it that way,” said Brett Riewer of rural Detroit Lakes, though he doesn’t plan to go this year. “I used to work backstage security, so I’ve spent some time out there,” he said. He’s met some of the big-name performers in person. “I know who’s decent and who’s not,” he said. “Brooks and Dunn and Collin Raye are really cool,” he said. He wouldn’t name names when it comes to performers who aren’t so nice in person. “I better not,” he said with a laugh.

Joe Hammack of Detroit Lakes would go to WE Fest this year, but “tickets are a little spendy,” he said. “I love WE Fest: Friendly interactions, friendly people, everyone having a good time.”


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