Will we miss We Fest when it’s on hiatus in 2020?
After 37 years, the country-and-camping hoedown in Detroit Lakes is taking a year off after Live Nation, the mega-promoters that purchased it this summer, can assess and plan for 2021.
Here are 10 memorable moments from my trips to We Fest.
1983 On the first small-plane ride of my life, I realized how many lakes there are in the Detroit Lakes area. The inaugural We Fest lineup was formidable with Alabama, Merle Haggard, Tammy Wynette and wildcard Jerry Lee Lewis. Between acts in the afternoon, skydivers landed in the middle of the dude ranch corral where the concert was being held. (See aerial view.)
1993 A year after he was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame, George “No Show” Jones showed up big-time at We Fest. He was chatty, personable and in fine voice and spirits. He proved that his feisty year-old hit “I Don’t Need Your Rockin’ Chair” was indeed true.
1994 Ray Charles gave new meaning to country music with his landmark 1962 album “Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music.” But when he landed at We Fest three decades later, he was an American music institution. However, he tarnished his reputation on a blustery, 55-degree summer evening when he hit the road, Jack, after performing only two numbers.
1999 Little Richard may be the self-proclaimed architect of rock ‘n’ roll but he’s an entertainer for any occasion. He proved it on a bill with country favorites Sawyer Brown, Lonestar and Collin Raye. And who should show up backstage? Little Richard’s biggest fan in Minnesota, Fancy Ray McCloney, an entertainer for only certain occasions.
1999 Buck Owens and his acolyte, Dwight Yoakam, were booked back to back on the same bill. And, of course, they performed together. California country at its finest.
2006 Every festgoer has traditions and rituals. My end-of-the-night ritual was to visit some friends from St. Paul who rented an RV and parked in the same corner every year. While we were sitting around having a late-night beverage, suddenly a golf cart comes whipping around the corner: It was Big Kenny Alphin of Big & Rich, those "Save a Horse (Ride a Cowboy)" hitmakers, looking for a party at 1 a.m.
2007 Nearly a dozen years before she’d record a country album, Grammy-grabbing pop star Sheryl Crow hit We Fest. After her well-received set, she walked down the steps from the stage holding her two young sons.
2007 The meet-and-greet scene with stars is often an adventure backstage. For years, Minneapolis music maven LeAnn Weimar served as the liaison between the big names and the fest. She asked Alan Jackson’s tour manager to make sure that he signed several posters and photos for We Fest sponsors and VIPs. “Does Alan sign them or do you do it for him?” she inquired. “No, he signs them,” the manager responded, “but I do a great Loretta Lynn.”
2008 After a couple of telephone interviews with Taylor Swift, I was finally going to chat with her in-person at We Fest. When I entered her bus backstage, her mother asked me to take off my shoes – and she sat in during the interview.
2008 While Brad Paisley was toasting "Alcohol" and all the crazy things that it makes you do, a tall, 30-something blonde plopped down two seats away from me, bent over and vomited. As she slept it off, her friends took photos of her. This scene gave a new meaning to whiskey lullaby.