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Krueger retiring from WE Fest

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Twenty-seven years ago, partners Jeff Krueger and Terry McCloskey established a new country music festival on the grounds of the Soo Pass Ranch south of Detroit Lakes.

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Though the names and faces behind the production of WE Fest have changed many times in the years since, Krueger's presence has remained a constant -- until now.

This Monday, Krueger announced that he was retiring from his position as president and CEO of WE Fest, effective Oct. 31.

"You just get to a point in life where you want to move on and do different things," Krueger said Tuesday in a telephone interview.

"I loved my job, and I loved WE Fest," he said of his years of running the show. "I created the event, it was my baby."

Though his resignation became official Monday, Krueger said, "I'll be around for a while yet, consulting in a limited capacity.

"I'm in my transition to retirement," he added, noting that he had already begun the process of leaving WE Fest's day-to-day operations in the capable hands of partner Randy Levy, who has been involved with WE Fest for 25 of its 27 years in existence.

"I won't be involved with the day-to-day operations or media (relations) or anything that has to do with promoting the event," Krueger said. "That's all being handled now by Randy."

Krueger has no plans to leave Detroit Lakes, however.

"I have a home here, my kids and grandkids are here, and I have no longing to go anywhere else," he said.

What he will be doing, Krueger added, is working on the development of the non-profit enterprise that he created in 1998, the Family Needs Fund.

"I'm going to concentrate on that for the next six months," he said. "Giving back and helping families is important to me."

Though the Family Needs Fund has been a successful charitable enterprise for many years, Krueger said, "We need to fill the coffers again, to continue helping families."

To that end, he added, he will be developing more special fund-raising events like the Sagebrush Reunion Concert that was held this past summer, reuniting one of the region's most popular music acts of the 1970s for the first time in 35 years.

Krueger also intends to resume some of the hobbies he has not had time for because of his devotion to WE Fest.

"I'm still in good health, so I'm going to travel and do some of the things I couldn't when it (WE Fest) occupied so much of my time," he said. "I'm going to be getting back into my artwork, finish my screen play, and I have some other projects I'm going to be working on too."

But that's not to say he doesn't feel a twinge or two of regret.

"There is a bittersweet part of this," he said. "Of course I'll miss it."

Under Krueger's tenure, WE Fest has grown into a world-renowned musical extravaganza that brings roughly 50,000 country music fans to Detroit Lakes every year for three days in August.

"It has been an honor to witness and share outstanding performances such as Roy Orbison, singing in front of a full moon, and Roger Miller playing an unplugged acoustic set alone on a stool, as 40,000 fans hung on his every note," Krueger wrote in a Monday letter announcing his resignation.

"Alabama gave us their (tour) bus to drive down Washington Avenue in 1983 to promote the show, and then brought down the house with a power-packed set that launched WE Fest into orbit," he continued. "We had great performances from Johnny Cash, a three-hour marathon set by Willie Nelson, Tim (McGraw) and Faith (Hill) kissing on stage when they first started dating, standing ovations for Kenny Chesney, Toby Keith and Vince Gill -- and this year Keith Urban and Kid Rock exploding with energy.

"Mark Miller of Sawyer Brown captivated us with his dance moves and songs in 10 performances over the years. And who could forget all those great ladies: Martina, Mary Chapin, June Carter, Loretta, Dolly, Reba, Wynona, Naomi, Tanya, Juice, Kellie, Lorie, Trisha, Jo Dee, Carrie and Taylor, to name a few.

"I remain grateful to my friends George Strait, Tim McGraw and Kenny Chesney for turning WE Fest around in 2004; I am appreciative of every artist that has ever graced our stage for such powerful and magical performances...

"It's been a great ride, but in one's life there is always a time to move on," Krueger concluded in his letter.

On Tuesday, he added, "There's some sadness there, but on the other hand, I look forward to the future. I'm real excited about moving on to new things."

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