DETROIT LAKES, Minn. (WCCO) – Going into its 33rd year of hosting outdoor concerts, WE Fest now bills itself as the largest country music and camping festival in the world.
It’s a three-night party at an old dude ranch, featuring some of the biggest names in country music. The 2015 lineup includes Blake Shelton, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Dierks Bentley, Jake Owen and Hank Williams, Jr., among many others.
The festival takes place at Soo Pass Ranch, where visitors used to ride horses through hundreds of acres, trying to experience the feeling of being a cowboy. In 1983, the owners decided that cowboy music would be the new main attraction.
Mary Ann and Jim Brogren of Detroit Lakes have been there from the start.
“We’ve been to every one of them since WE ’83,” Jim Brogen said, “and every year just seems to get better and better.”
The Brogrens remember when the festival was in its infancy and the crowds were much smaller.
“We sat on the straw bales and we drank beer out of quart jugs like milk cartons,” Jim said. “That’s how they sold beer in them days.”
Three decades later, WE Fest is a high-profile stop for big-name performers, drawing nearly 50,000 fans for three consecutive nights.
General manager Bob Bliss said several up-and-coming artists have raised their profile by appearing as warm-up acts at WE Fest.
“We’ve had a lot of bands that have come in that were just starting out,” Bliss said. “Florida Georgia Line is one that we’ve worked with from ground zero to where they are today.”
Some of the newest features in the concert area – a massive stage and thousands of stadium seats – are actually used.
Mark Bjerke, manager of sponsorship sales, said the best seats in the house came from the old Comiskey Park in Chicago, where the White Sox played.
“That’s one thing about outdoor stadium seats,” he said, “They’re built to withstand years and years and years of wear and tear. The stage was originally the Dave Matthews Band stage, and he toured with it, and it was the largest touring stage at that time. And so then we bought it and made it a permanent stage.”
Since WE Fest lasts for three days, many of the fans sleep overnight in one of the 9,000 campsites on the property.
The Brogrens have been married 50 years, and they’re now looking forward to their 33rd WE Fest.
“I think it’s younger and younger people coming, or else we’re just getting older and older, I don’t know,” Mary Ann said. “Everybody’s out here to have a good time.”
Reserved seats for this year’s WE Fest sold out before last year’s festival even ended, but there are still some general admission tickets left.