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New things this year at WE Fest

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DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- The 2014 incarnation of WE Fest is less than two months away, and organizers hope this year’s country music extravaganza is the most successful to date.

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In an ever-evolving quest to give festival attendees the best concert-going and/or camping experience of their lives, WE Fest staff has been hard at work making a wide array of improvements.

“We’ve invested a tremendous amount of time and financial resources in terms of continuing to enhance the audience experience at this show,” said John Gourley, chief marketing officer for Festivals And Concert Events Inc., the corporate entity that produces the annual festival south of Detroit Lakes.

As an example, for all of those festival-goers who have lost their way between campsite/parking space and concert bowl, or who have misplaced their companions in the crowd, such geographic and logistical struggles will soon become all but a thing of the past.

By the time the 32nd annual WE Fest rolls around Aug. 7, there will be a smartphone app to help you with that.

“It’s one of the big things we’ve been working on, for about a year now,” Gourley said. “It’s going to roll out a few weeks before the show.”

Gourley called the app a “must-have” tool for concert-goers, whether they are VIPs or sitting in general admission.

“It will have a site map with all the campgrounds, and a concert schedule including precisely where and when everyone is performing,” Gourley said. “We will have a list of all the food and shopping vendors (and their locations in the venue), and each day the app will feature some specials, some specific things ‘on sale’ that will make it something that is really valuable for our guests to have.”

The app also will be “GPS friendly,” he added, which means guests will be able to “pin” the precise location of their campsite or car on the site map.

“It will also be a way for your friends to find you, or for you to find your friends,” Gourley said, because you can also “pin” your own location on the map at any given time.

“We think the app will be super popular and highly utilized,” he said. “We’ve spent a ton of time building features into it far beyond what a normal app of this type would have.”

The app also will let users get a jump on buying tickets for next year’s festival, Gourley said.

“Our 2015 show goes on sale July 7 at 7 a.m.,” he said. “We’re already getting a bunch of calls and emails relative to when the tickets will be on sale. For the past four years they have been selling more quickly than ever before.”

This is particularly true of the reserved and VIP seating, which is selling out earlier each year. In fact, this year’s show has only a limited number of general admission seats left, and people shouldn’t count on being able to purchase tickets at the gate, Gourley cautioned.

WE Fest organizers also have been making improvements around the grounds of the Soo Pass Ranch.

“We have continued to evolve the audience experience in terms of offering the best sound and the best video,” Gourley said. “We are building a giant control center, right behind the reserved seats, where the sound and video and lighting will all be controlled.”

The new control center will allow technicians to fine-tune the sound, lights and video to accommodate changes in the weather and adjust for different times of day.

And of course, the perks of being a WE Fest VIP have continued to evolve as well. Last year, a new private, members-only WE Club was added in the VIP Hospitality area backstage, complete with top-shelf beverages, gourmet food and even a small stage area to showcase up-and-coming local talent.

This year, the WE Club will offer more music and live interviews with some of the featured Main Stage performers, all on the club’s private stage.

Brainerd-based catering company Prairie Bay was brought on board to serve guests in the VIP area last year. Gourley said the company will offer an expanded menu “with more specialty items.”

New beverage policy

A more controversial change is the decision to no longer allow any outside beverages — including water — to be brought inside the concert bowl through any main gate entrance.

This includes VIP guests, who in the past have been allowed to bring their official WE Fest mugs into the concert area, filled with the beverage of their choice, via any of the main gate entrances. VIP guests will now only be allowed to bring outside beverages directly into their designated hospitality seating areas — not through the main gates.   

All concert-goers can bring in empty bottles and fill them with water at any of the city-plumbed facilities inside the concert bowl.

While this might not be as popular as some of the upgrades, Gourley said the policy change was long overdue.

“There’s no other place I know of in the nation that allows it (outside beverages inside the concert area) — certainly none of this size,” he said. “We were probably the last venue in the country to make that change.”

Another change that guests will like is the relatively dust-free roads through the campgrounds and the concert venue.

“We’re working on treating all the main roads with a new product, to minimize dust during peak travel hours so people will notice a huge difference,” Gourley said. “I expect we’ll see a lot of positive comments on that.”

Gourley also feels that this year’s lineup is one of the strongest that they’ve had, with a mix of new, “hot” performers such as Florida Georgia Line, Brantley Gilbert and Ashley Monroe, as well as tour headliners such as Brad Paisley and Jason Aldean.

And of course, there is the Zac Brown Band, which will make its WE Fest debut this year.

“He’s never been here before,” Gourley said of Brown. “We’ve been trying to get him for years, and the routing never worked.”

Chart-toppers The Band Perry also will make their first appearance at WE Fest.

Many of the lesser-known acts will follow up their Main Stage debut with a set on the Barn Stage, which Gourley likens to Nashville’s Bluebird Café as a venue for showcasing new acts on the cusp of hitting it big.

WE Fest tickets and camping packages are available at wefest.com or by calling (800) 493-3378 (box office hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. CST Monday through Friday).

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