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The WE Fest main stage seen Wednesday, July 31, at Soo Pass Ranch in Detroit Lakes, Minn. Meagan Deanne / The Forum

As WE Fest changes owners, past owner says 'they've got their work cut out for them'

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — WE Fest has new owners: Live Nation.

The announcement was made Tuesday morning, Aug. 6, by Townsquare Media CEO Bill Wilson during the company's second-quarter financial results conference call.

"After carefully evaluating our asset portfolio, we determined that music festivals are not core to our local-first strategy," Wilson said during the call.

Wilson said that the $10 million sale to a subsidiary of Live Nation includes all of Townsquare's live events, about 200 events. Wilson did not name specific festivals during the call, but Townsquare owns and operates festivals around the country, according to its website, including: WE Fest, Country Jam, the Taste of Country Music Festival, Headwaters Country Jam, the Boise Music Festival, the BearTrap Summer Festival, WYRK’s Taste of Country and WGNA’s CountryFest.

"Live events, we expanded outside our local music footprint, with name and other assets we acquired throughout the years," Wilson said, in response to a question.

Townsquare Media, a Connecticut-based media company, purchased the Detroit Lakes festival in 2014 for $21.5 million in cash, along with stock and other considerations, according to an archived release on sec.gov.

Shares of Townsquare Media (TSQ) stock closed at $5.90 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange, up 13.03%, according to Townsquare's website.

Live Nation was founded in 2010 following the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster. The company manages ticket sales for events around the world; promotes concerts, tours and festivals, and owns and operates several entertainment venues.

"They're one of the biggest touring companies in the world," said former WE Fest owner Rand Levy in a Tuesday interview, adding that he thought the acquisition of WE Fest by Live Nation would be a positive thing for the future of the festival.

"Yes, absolutely, I think it will be good," he said, adding that he had been in contact with some people from Live Nation leading up to the sale. "There's some serious changes they'll want to make, but their goal is to grow WE Fest again and involve more local businesses and people as they grow."

While optimistic about the sale overall, Levy added, "They’ve got their work cut out for them. ... WE Fest has had a few hard years recently. The talent hasn't been bad, but (Townsquare) didn't promote it the way I would have. I hope Live Nation will come in and do a good job with it, because it’s great for the community."

The sale had been rumored in Detroit Lakes for weeks leading up to the 2019 festival, which concluded Saturday, Aug. 3.

Detroit Lakes Mayor Matt Brenk said WE Fest has been a positive for the community, but there have been no definitive local studies done on the festival's economic impact.

While some of the rumors swirling around the sale had included plans for moving it to another location, or shutting it down altogether, Brenk added, "I don't think that would happen. It (the festival) has been good to Detroit Lakes over the years and I hope we have it for many more years."

WE Fest, one of the biggest country music festivals in the country, was started in 1983 by Jeff Krueger, with Levy and Chyrll Sparks coming on board in 1985. Though Krueger had first wanted to call the event the US Festival, that name was already taken.

Attendance at the festival during the first year was around 9,000; over the years, it grew to as much as 50,000 per day, though the total attendance has fluctuated somewhat from year to year since then.

The Becker County Sheriff’s Office and State Patrol were busy during WE Fest this year: Between July 31 and Aug. 4, there were 64 people arrested and booked into the Becker County Jail, compared to 60 people last year during the same time period, said Sheriff Todd Glander, who emphasized that not all of those were WE Fest-related arrests.

In 2010, Levy became the sole owner of the festival, before selling the event to Townsquare Media in 2014.

Alabama was the headliner for the very first WE Fest. Since then, many other famous country singers and bands have taken the stage at the Soo Pass including Jason Aldean, Big & Rich, Brooks & Dunn, Kenny Chesney, Carrie Underwood, Eric Church, Florida Georgia Line, Rascal Flatts, Vince Gill, Merle Haggard, Faith Hill, Toby Keith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roger Miller, Martina McBride, Tim McGraw, Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Charley Pride, Kid Rock, George Strait, Taylor Swift, Blake Shelton, Tanya Tucker, Keith Urban, Tammy Wynette, Brad Paisley, Trisha Yearwood, and many more.

Several artists not generally associated with country music have also appeared, including Ray Charles, Ringo Starr, Steve Martin, The Doobie Brothers, Kid Rock and Steven Tyler, to name a few.

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