15 July 2021
“We have a guy that's been involved with the show for many years as a landlord and knew what it was like in the heydays. So he knows where he wants to take it.” says WE Fest General Sales Manager Mark Bjerke.
We Fest was started in 1983, a couple of partners were brought in about 1985. And that ownership group was rock steady through 2014. In 2010, one of those owners bought out his partners’ shares and from 2010 to 2014, WE Fest had a single owner, who had been involved since 1985.
In 2014, he sold We Fest to Townsquare Live Events and they ran the show from 2015- 2018. In 2019 We Fest was sold to Live Nation and then Live Nation partnered with Matt Mathun.
The key here is, the Mathun family has owned the property since the mid 80s. So, for the first time ever the festival is partially owned by the same individual who owns the property.In fact, Live Nation is a 49% partner, and local ownership means more local hiring.
Talk about coming full circle.
When Town Square bought WE Fest, they bought up a bunch of festivals, but according to Bjerke, they had a different philosophy when it came to running them,they were used to being able to set up, pack up and make it to the next destination, whereas WE Fest is unique because it has its own site that spans 660 acres and is permanent.
As WE Fest returns to its roots, we had the opportunity to chat with Bjerke about WE Fest returning to its roots and improvements that are being made to the festival as well as the festival grounds.
High Plains Reader: In the age of COVID, what’s it like planning a huge festival like WE Fest?
Mark Bjerke: The biggest challenge with us is when we have a festival as big as We Fest, you know, you're really about 18 months out of planning. And most of that is talent related. So the reason the festival was postponed or canceled in 2020, was because after the sale of Live Nation, our partnership group didn't really have enough time that we're used to having. So that was really the reason behind that.
As far as everything else Putting the band back together is what we've been doing so to speak, because we, the previous owner, Townsquare had a little different philosophy on running festivals. And part of their philosophy is they had multiple festivals, and they would just move all the people around. We Fest was built on local sponsorship, local support and all those things, it really was an event for not only the region, but really for Detroit Lakes.
It was nice to really get back to that. bringing in some of the old faces. I hate to keep using the word old, seasoned veterans, how about that? Yeah, it's been, it's been interesting. A lot of excitement with our past employees and, and workers and volunteers that want to get back. So that's certainly encouraging. And then, you know, we've got quite a few of the local sponsors back and certainly in the marketing realm to not only not only radio and print and TV, but you know, with the sponsors that really support the show.
HPR: Was it tough to get local sponsors and vendors back on board?
MB: It wasn't as hard as the person might think, because they brought me back. And I took care of all of them before. So being called by a familiar face and somebody that they have history with. It was very helpful. So when I made the phone calls, there was a lot of excitement right away. A few people chose not to come back. Yes, but most of those were more logistics than feelings. You know, they just couldn't put it together for 2021,but they'd be back in 2022. I have several of those. With the sponsors there’s a lot of budgets and planning involved.
HPR: What kind of improvements have been made on the grounds?
Having Mathun as the owner, who also owns the property, he's very interested and committed to making improvements to the property. So we've already done some landscaping and moved some things around. We've got our GA (General admission) section that will be 200 feet closer than it has been in the past. We put down a couple of buildings, and we've got building projects on the drawing board. We also have a lot of improvements that we've done to the Barn Stage, Saloon, Ranch House area. We're really committed to improving the grounds over the next two-three years with some more permanent buildings, upgrading buildings that were there making a better fan experience. So yeah, they'll see, I think what people will notice if they were there in 18, and 19, I think they'll notice a couple things, I think they'll notice the people a lot friendlier and a lot more familiar faces, and they'll see improvements to the ground. So I mean, I think people showing up there will see that we're back and we're committed and we're here to stay
We have a bowl or a stadium, if you will, that has a capacity of about 50,000 people. And we have all flush toilets and freshwater sinks. So that's very unique, most big festivals like this, you're going to see porta potties everywhere again. A lot of festivals will set up festival grounds or something that's not used to handling this. You know, WE Fest was built from the ground up to handle big crowds, in the most comfortable and sanitary ways possible.
HPR: Is there anything that was maybe lost in transition that we'll see back?
Again, the town square years, you know, they got rid of a lot of the local managers, workers and sponsors and so a lot of those are back so they can see a lot of familiar faces. I think that's hopefully the biggest thing people will notice is the, you know, the friendly, happy faces that they were used to and, and, you know, the grounds of course, should look as good as ever. Maybe a little better. But I think friendly faces are mostly the big thing. You know, talking to people before that seems to be the biggest complaint comment, whatever you want to call it, is it felt like it felt like a big box festival instead of the local festival that it was, you know, it didn't have that friendly feeling that it had in the past. And that's, that's probably where our biggest commitment is getting that feeling back, putting the fun back in. So, back to fun in 21. as our slogan s
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