DETROIT LAKES — There are plenty of legendary people at the WE Fest grounds campsites during the three-day country music festival. Some are known for offering friendship and a refreshing drink, entertaining games, and others go to great lengths to decorate their campsite.
Midland Publishing Campground is perhaps one of the most famous, as it offers the trifecta of WE Fest camping essence.
Mike and Betty Sipe, owners of Midland Publishing of Milbank, SD, arrive well before the festival begins. Before any camping gear is brought to the site, the area is mowed, weeded and insect sprayed.
A few days later, the family returns with campers, tents, a bar, tables and a spectacular sound system in tow. On Wednesday, several motorhomes were cordoned off like a train of wagons to provide a private party area. An entrance to the party area was located under a canopy strung with lights. A faux grass carpet led visitors to a central hub. In the center, tables with picture books about WE Fest traditions from years gone by invited strolls down memory lane.
Sipe’s WE Fest journey began almost 20 years ago. A friend had extra tickets for the county music festival – which started in 1983 with around 9,000 people in attendance.
When Sipe and his family first attended WE Fest in the early 2000s, more than 100,000 people camped there and attended concerts there — with a maximum of 50,000 in the concert bowl, according to a co-owner of the WE Fest at the time. The laid-back atmosphere, all about bonding and fun, was just the summer getaway Mike could see his family and friends taking for years to come.
“I had such a good time that I became a sponsor,” he said, adding that he had a small RV area near the backstage access area. “At first we had three campers, now we have 21. Family, friends and clients all come with us to WE Fest.”
The Midland Publishing team brings on average between 70 and 120 people to the festival.
“This year we have 75,” Mike said.
There was a short period when the Sipes moved away from the music festival. However, when he heard chief executive Mark Bjerke take over the leadership role, that alone was a reason to relaunch the country once again.
“Mark is just awesome,” said Sipe. “He’s easy going and throws a great event.”
Upon his return, Mike was happy to see that some familiar faces had returned to work at the event. He noted that he got to know many of them over the years.
His wife added that, for them, the festival is tantamount to pleasure and an opportunity to strengthen the ties that bind families and friendships. These bonding moments usually happened in one of the two wings of Midland Publishing’s campground.
The east wing offered a canopy-covered seating area and a sound system ready for country music big name tours, complete with fog machines and laser lights.
“One year LoCash plugged in and played,” Betty said.
Madisen, Sipe’s 28-year-old daughter, recalled the night before the LoCash campground concert, a storm blew in and “flattened the tents.” The next morning, campers from Midland Publishing rebuilt the campground.
Their 32-year-old son, Nick, estimated that more than 40 people had worked together to restore the campsite to its former glory. The teamwork was rewarded later in the evening with a visit from the popular country singer.
“There were maybe 300 or 400 people here for this gig,” Mike said. “It was great.”
The West Wing of Midland Publishing Campground features a play tent, more tables, and a family bar built from a red cedar tree. Mike said many stories of WE Fest adventures were shared at the bar, as well as times when two friends finally got together to share their life stories. While half the heart of WE Fest is the big concerts, building relationships and having fun at the campgrounds is the other half.