DETROIT LAKES, MINNESOTA—Day two of my WE Fest adventure began with former Hootie and the Blowfish frontman Darius Rucker, who made a seamless transition from 90s favorite to country star; seriously, every other song on country radio seems to be by Rucker. The crowd was already raring to go by his early evening performance, judging from all the girls falling over into the dirt that I saw upon entrance to the Soo Pass. Rucker, in a purple t-shirt and baseball cap (not the kickers and cowboy hat his contemporaries favor), swept through his repertoire and included a couple Hootie jams too, much to the delight of his audience. But my favorite part? Rucker’s rollicking cover of a Nesvig family favorite, Hank Williams Jr.’s “Family Tradition.”
Post-Rucker, I visited a WE Fest campground. Imagine a giant frat party, spread out from tent to camper across several acres. Buses blare Kid Rock and Lil Wayne while 20-somethings spill across the road and hop from site to site. Grills blaze, girls dance, beer pong games are conducted, and Port-a-Potties get shaken. In short, if you’ve got a few drinks in you, it’s awesome. At WE Fest, campers are allowed to be as hedonistic as they please. And they oblige. (I did have to wonder how many “oops” babies are conceived during WE Fest, and how many of the boys in cowboy hats had ever actually been to a farm.)
After spending some time guzzling down a few beers and chatting with a few Kansas transplants who flew in just to camp, I ambled back to the Soo Pass for Miranda Lambert, a personal favorite.
Lambert is a country queen in the tradition of the old greats. She takes no bullshit, throws punches, and confesses to smoking and drinking. Sure, her songs tend to be about the usual “lady in country music” topics, like domestic abuse and heartbreak, but the petite blonde is so dang likable. Young girls like me love Miranda; she gets us through the hard times. Miranda understands that sometimes, when someone breaks your heart, you wanna draw a pistol on his new girlfriend.
My least favorite country act of all time, Rascal Flatts, were the headliner for the final night of WE Fest. But I’d had enough Miller Lite to stomach their pop-influenced hits. Their set started with the usual bombast of a headliner: flashy lights, pyrotechnics, and video clips to heighten audience anticipation. “Is this Rascal Flatts or the Blue Man Group?” asked a member of my party. “So many drums!”
I was most disappointed to see that lead singer Joe Don Rooney’s trademark spiky hair was far less flamboyant than it appears in music videos. They opened with “Why Wait,” which played constantly on K102 last winter, and the crowd went crazy. Rascal Flatts are a country act with a lot of younger fans, and the audience that surrounded me was definitely in the 20-25 age bracket. When the band broke into its biggest hit (and one I’ve heard at a thousand weddings) “Bless the Broken Road,” couples were kissing and slow-dancing like it was a high school prom. I may hate Rascal Flatts (okay, okay, I like two songs), but I’m in the minority.
The Flatts, who had been doing a little golfing in the scenic Detroit Lakes area earlier that day, zoomed through their hits and a few covers, capping off WE Fest “Heaven in 2011” for an enthusiastic crowd…but then again, everyone was so tipsy I’m sure they wouldn’t have minded if Willie took another turn on the mic.
Even if you don’t like country music, go to WE Fest. I’m serious. You music snobs can amuse yourselves making fun of sneaker/cowboy boot hybrids and bad tattoos. I’ll be back for sure, because Alabama, WE Fest’s very first headliner all those years ago, are slated to return for the 30th Anniversary. And given the amount fun I had at WE Fest “Heaven in 2011,” I can’t wait to see what’ll happen next year.