For 40 years, WE Fest has been an iconic music festival, hosting some of the biggest names in the country music industry, from Taylor Swift and Morgan Wallen to Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash. Yet behind the heart-stomping good vibes the festival brings, WE Fest has dedicated itself to sending out good vibes of another kind through charitable giving, donation programs, and partnering with local volunteers and organizations.
In 2023, WE Fest had a significant year of giving. We had the privilege of sitting down with owner Matt Mithun at Soo Pass Ranch to discuss the festival’s contributions this year.
Each year, WE Fest significantly impacts local and regional tourism, and 2023 was no exception. WE Fest received the WAVE Award during the Detroit Lakes “Splash Awards” this fall, recognizing a chamber member who promotes and invests in regional tourism and the hospitality industry.
” A big part of the economic impact is hospitality and the broader tourism umbrella—many stores, restaurants, and bars feel the positive impact,” Mithun noted. “It’s nice to see the overall impact WE Fest has every year, especially this past year.” Undoubtedly, 2023 was a big year, welcoming about 40,000 attendees daily.
Mithun also highlighted WE Fest’s importance in local exposure for the Detroit Lakes area and the recreational opportunities the Lakes area provides, often bringing visitors back each year to enjoy not just WE Fest but also the lake life the area offers during the summer, calling it a “summer hub.”
WE Fest raised over $200,000 for nonprofits and volunteer groups in 2023 and employed over 1,000 people. Local nonprofits and volunteer groups are invited to work during WE Fest in various roles. Volunteers sign up to work on behalf of an organization. “It’s pretty amazing how quickly that adds up,” Mithun noted. Some nonprofits partnering with WE Fest in this way include Friends of the Tamarack, the Boys and Girls Club, and local high school and college teams. The volunteer groups and nonprofit organizations earned over $80,000 through paid volunteer hours working in all festival areas.
One of the most notable and successful fundraisers WE Fest conducted this year was partnering with KLN Family Brands of Perham, MN, for the Soldier’s 6 “Round Up” donation. This allowed patrons to round up purchases made at the festival for the cause. So how did it work? When attendees registered their festival wristbands, they were given the option to “round up” all purchases made during the festival to the nearest dollar, and the difference would be donated to Soldier’s 6. This was the first year WE Fest used this model, and nearly half of the attendees chose to participate in the opportunity. The effort was a huge success, raising $39,138 from rounded-up purchases.
Soldier’s 6 is a non-profit organization that provides trained K9s for veterans, police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other groups needing companionship and assistance. In 2021, KLN Family Brands/NutriSource joined forces with Soldier’s 6. Both entities have had a strong desire to help those military members who are serving, have served, and care for our first responders. KLN Family Brands envisioned a training facility for this type of work, but it took joining forces with Soldier’s 6 to make the dream a reality. All the pieces of the puzzle came together. The training facility is now known as The Spot by NutriSource in Greenfield, MN. The Spot offers a safe and clean environment for trainers to bring that quality training to the service dog teams, prepare them for life after training, and build a strong bond between the handler and their “Battle Buddy”.
Additionally, the Boys and Girls Club raised $37,420 through their raffle program, a yearly initiative. WE Fest also donated many tickets to various volunteer groups and nonprofits, totaling over $40,000 in 2023.
Another important fundraising effort at WE Fest was a collaboration with longtime radio partner BOB FM radio of Fargo. Backing the Blue honored local police officers for their hard work and positive impact on the community. WE Fest honored Fargo’s Officer Wallin, who tragically died earlier in 2023. WE Fest employees led this fundraiser, raising $3,062, which WE Fest matched, totaling $6,124 donated to the Backing the Blue campaign.
WE Fest provided opportunities to 175 vendors and businesses, several of which were first-time vendors. “In 2024, we’re expanding the East Village,” Mithun said, providing additional opportunities to new vendors this year.
Mithun is committed to making WE Fest a positive and unforgettable experience for attendees. Each year, improvements are being made to the festival grounds. “It helps that both the festival and the Soo Pass Ranch are under common ownership—we love the fact that we can look out to the distant future and make all these improvements to the site,” he said. “We recently put in a big new stage, rebuilt the Prancing Pony, remodeled the Ranch House, and are remodeling the dressing rooms now. And we’ve been doing a bunch of stuff on the campgrounds, especially new electrical sites.”
Mithun notes how common ownership between the festival and the land helps keep the constant improvement and development of the festival and grounds seamless and is grateful for the festival’s current state. “Looking back 40 years ago [to today], it’s amazing to see how far it’s come,” he said. “And you can see from the pictures on the wall (referring to the wall of fame in the Ranch House) that it was once a dude ranch, and it basically had no infrastructure. The first year, it was a funky little stage that was basically a barn, and then we grew [each year].”
Now, WE Fest is one of the nation’s biggest and most successful destination country music festivals, much of which is credited to Mithun and his team’s dedication to reinvesting right back into the festival grounds, the fan experience, and making meaningful partnerships along the way.
As for WE Fest 2024, the lineup will feature Eric Church, Jelly Roll, Parker McCollum, Koe Wetzel, Carly Pearce, Elle King, Trace Adkins, and several up-and-coming artists making waves in the industry. Visit wefest.com/tickets to learn more.