Zachary Toliver | Shale Plays Media
At Shale Plays Media, we got word that We Fest is quite the attraction for oil and gas roustabouts from the Bakken area. With some of us being from the Northern Midwest, we knew the festival was no joke. Many towns in the North Dakota area are empty shells for three days while We Fest runs its course. Even though we were initially skeptical of the time we would have, we decided to check it out for ourselves to see why this fling attracts thousands from across the country in general, but our reader base in particular. With a few media passes and a photographer, we began our qualitative investigation into the biggest country music gathering this side of the Mason-Dixon.
We Fest has come a long way since the mere 9,000 people who attended the first festival over 30 years ago in 1983. This year, over 50,000 folks were expected to show up for the three day celebration of country, good times and merriment. Multiple news sources claimed this year was expected to be the biggest yet. It’s obvious that interest is only rising, as many VIP tickets for next year are already sold out.
For one weekend in August, thousands from around the country make Soo Pass Ranch their destination. Located near the Detroit Lakes area of Minnesota, the venue is surrounded by huge campgrounds, waterways for leisure and establishments that carry all the required items to make it through the three day fest.
If you’re not an expert We Fest attendee, you may have trouble knowing where one camp site ends and another begins. The colorful party continues across campgrounds without breaks. The only vivid distinctions were the number of RV’s in the upscale sites versus the number of tents in others. In addition, the campground such as the Eagle (highly recommend for a guaranteed good time) carry a younger connotation, as there were after-party stages catering to a crowd of inebriated dancers until two in the morning.
While in our journey around campsites and backstage, we ran into an oil worker from Alaska. Dustin, 27, is a nine-year veteran of oil production in Alaska. He first started in the fields at 18 and now works security for the oil production sites. He noted that in the barren land, he sees “the real guys in Ice Road Truckers” all the time. Originally from North Dakota, Dustin drove 3600 miles to attend We Fest, the longest journey we heard of the entire weekend. You can imagine the cost such a trip would incur, but as Dustin jokingly put it “We make more on the oil rigs than the gold rush, Ice Road Truckers, and crab fishing combined.”
Dustin had every right to treat himself to the adventure he was on. “We have it hard up there” he said behind a smile. “It will get to -95 degrees…but up there I bought myself an 8,000 dollar polar bear coat.” Nonetheless, though the weather is even worse than North Dakota and the declining rig count (by Dustin’s calculations) of his area went from fifty to four, Dustin said he’d never want to work in a different oilfield. “I have too much fun in the fields of Alaska.” However, I’m skeptical if he wouldn’t escape for the “Bakken Girls”, an apparent fascination of his. After the informal interview, Dustin came back with us to our campsite only to sleep off some of his exhaustion in our tent. Unfortunately, he left sometime while we were out again. Just one of many good folks we interacted with over the weekend.
Above all, the American pride from all attendants shined the most. Nearly every time our group walked through the tunnels connecting the campsites to the main concert bowl at Soo Ranch, an exhilarating chant of “USA! USA! USA!” would start up, regardless of the time of day. If We Fest were to have a dress code, no doubt it would be a requirement to host some sort of American Flag apparel, something the majority of attendants already abided by. Aside from the music, most of the performers had three things in common; giving a salute to America, giving a cheers to drinking, and demanding everyone have a fanciful time.
But the patriotic apparel was to be expected. One of the more unforeseen and intriguing sights was the diversity of attendants. We Fest has too long been type casted by the general public as a festival of rebel rednecks and hicks. Many first-timers shared this sentiment of prejudice but were soon taken back by the acceptance of the tipsy population. When hiking through the campgrounds and the concert bowl, the stereotypes of hostility are not what they are made out to be. We were invited to play games (a majority of which involved drinking) and strangers were participating in everything from body shots to tippy-cup with welcoming campers.
People from the south were camped right up next to Yankee counterparts while black and white folks were high-fiving at the same rate as any other race assortment without confrontation or uninvited stares. Kimberly, the lead singer of The Band Perry said that for this short moment “Let’s come together as one big country music loving family.” But for some of us in the crowd, the music was second to the alcohol laced experience of meeting new people in one of the biggest Bashes in Minnesota. At night, sounds of electronic music and hip-hop drew restless attendees to after-party campsites where the celebrations would continue. Most attendants, such as our oil working friend Dustin, were there for the sole reason of having a good time, away from reality for a short three days.
The only thing as common as the American flags dotting the landscape and covering attendees was perhaps the beer cans those attendees were holding. It is no secret how much drinking happens at We Fest and to see it up close was no disappointment to the rumors. As with anywhere alcohol is being consumed, you’ll have riff raff causing unnecessary trouble as strong drinks sometimes bring out the worst in people.
But according to a WDAY report, arrests were on par with the previous year and aside from the Minot man who committed a knife assault, the only extraordinary arrest was for someone who was under the influence and brought in a concealed handgun. The majority of cases were non-violent alcohol related incidents. Out of the 225 calls in relation to the event, 70 bookings were recorded for the Becker county jail with 15 being for disorderly conduct. Security overall was tight but not overbearing. Guards on horseback, four-wheelers, and police in squad cars cut through the campsites to make sure the peace was kept.
In this part of the country, it’s rare to see such an influx of people from around the country drawn to anything in unification. Perhaps the area comes to life at such a velocity for the people because for a large chunk of the year in these parts living itself is difficult let alone camping, traveling or attending a festival. On stage, Brad Paisley summed up this idea quite well when he said “After one of the worst winters in American history, this is Minnesota’s revenge.” What a revenge it was against old man winter as folks hosted smiles and an array of patriotic paraphernalia.