DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — "We're back, y'all!"
The headline on the cover of the 2021 WE Fest program encapsulated the jubilation felt by festival staff and attendees alike as the enduringly popular country music festival returned to Detroit Lakes, Minnesota's Soo Pass Ranch this past weekend. The 2020 WE Fest was canceled by its new owners, Live Nation, who took the year off to regroup for the 2021 festival.
"This place has a very emotional attachment for people," said WE Fest General Manager Mark Bjerke, adding that he had seen several staff members and concert goers "with tears in their eyes" as they talked about what it meant to be back.
When asked to sum up the experience, Bjerke said, "It felt like a homecoming — certainly a homecoming for me, but also for a lot of other people."
Bjerke, who had worked for the festival for many years before his departure in 2016, said that new owner Matt Mithun had made a considerable effort to bring back as many of the local people who worked for the show in previous years as possible — everyone from trash collectors and ushers to food and craft vendors.
"Bringing back the local sponsors was really important, along with bringing back some of the local food and craft vendors ... and all the people who have been adopted into the WE Fest family because they've been a part of it for so long," he continued.
Though official numbers aren't in yet, Bjerke said that based on previous years' experience, he estimated that attendance for the weekend was "somewhere in the mid-20s (i.e., around 24-26,000)."
That's down from peak years of over 40,000.
"Overall, we're pretty happy with the attendance," he said. "I think it went really, really well." The festival's headlining acts included Dierks Bentley, Blake Shelton and Florida Georgia Line.
Plans are already underway for 2022's festival, with next year's headlining acts being announced during this year's event.
"We announced them during this year's show," Bjerke said. The tradition of announcing the next year's headliners during the current year's show — a practice that was discontinued briefly under previous owners Townsquare Media — is something Bjerke believes to be unique to WE Fest.
Luke Bryan, Jason Aldean and Miranda Lambert will headline WE Fest 2022.
Advance tickets for 2022 are already on sale at wefest.com; Bjerke said that reserved and VIP ticket holders at this year's festival will have until Aug. 25 to reserve the same seats for 2022, after which they will be put back into the sales pool.
After Aug. 25, Bjerke said that festival organizers will take some time to "regroup" before reopening the site for sales of all music and camping tickets to the general public, around mid-October.