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WE Fest opens Thursday

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Though the Becker County Fair and 10,000 Lakes Festival are barely behind us for another year, area residents won't have much time to settle back into their normal routine -- the area's biggest summer attraction, WE Fest, opens Thursday at the Soo Pass Ranch south of Detroit Lakes.

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Country music fans from across the U.S. converge on the lakes area every August, for what has become known as one of the biggest and best celebrations of the summer.

The 27th annual country jam fest gets underway Thursday, Aug. 6, and continues through Saturday, Aug. 8, with a star-filled lineup that features a trio of headliners in Toby Keith (Aug. 6), Brooks & Dunn (Aug. 7) and Tim McGraw (Aug. 8).

Also slated to perform next weekend are Silverado, 32 Below, Sawyer Brown and Trace Adkins on Thursday; October Road, Jetty Road, Joey & Rory, Craig Morgan and Taylor Swift on Friday; and Boomtown, Katie Armiger, Kellie Pickler, Clint Black and Big & Rich on Saturday.

Jeff Krueger, WE Fest founder and president of Festivals And Concert Events (FACE) Inc., which manages the festival, says that preparations for the event are going better than ever.

"It's a lot smoother, a lot less weather problems, we have some additional staff helping out and we don't have as many (improvement) projects as in the past," he said Thursday.

That's because the biggest undertaking at the Soo Pass in 2009 -- the construction of a new roof over the main concert stage -- was completed in June, Krueger added.

The new roof -- one of the largest touring roofs in the U.S. -- and its supports can handle 150,000 pounds of weight. The roof also provides protection from the elements, with vinyl drapes hanging down on three sides of the stage to keep out the worst of the wind and water from even the most torrential rainstorms.

Besides the new roof, other improvements made at the Soo Pass this year include better signage for concert attendees and campers to navigate the grounds; larger hospitality and reserved seating areas, and "mainly a lot of repairs and fine tuning of the facility," Krueger said.

While ticket sales are "a little behind 2008," Krueger said, overall "it's going great."

"We're expecting about 45,000 this year instead of 47,000," he added.

If you don't have tickets for this year, but would still like to go, don't sweat it, said Krueger.

Though online ticket sales ended this past Friday, concert-goers can still purchase both single-day and four-day passes at the gate. Camping is also available in the Hilltop, Woodchuck and Valley campgrounds, Krueger added.

"We're sold out of our silver lawn and reserved seats," he said. But other than that, most sections still have some seating available.

And things are already looking up for next year, according to Krueger.

"We've confirmed both Kenny Chesney and Keith Urban for 2010," he said. "We're pretty excited about that. Our presale for 2010 went up June 20, and it's already better than it was (at this time last year)."

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