Sun, stars shine as WE Fest opens

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DETROIT LAKES, Minn—While potential rain threatened to dampen the spirits of WE Fest, concert-goers weren't going to let questionable weather cloud their day.

"This is awesome," said Jen Middleton. "Look at the rainbow."

Indeed, a rainbow shone east of the campgrounds around 6 p.m., and clear skies followed on the first day of the three-day country festival.

Middleton, from Monticello, Minn., was at the event to see Luke Bryan, but on Thursday evening she was enjoying Kelsea Ballerini's set. Middleton's friend, Kirk Johnson, from Milwaukee was looking forward to Alan Jackson who played later Thursday and Lady Antebellum who closed Thursday night.

Jackson was just taking the stage as this story was being written.

If it had rained, attendees would've had some new options for taking shelter. A new, large WE Bar has been erected at the back of the concert bowl where the merchandise shack used to be. The new bar featured ceiling fans and tall top tables, allowing revelers a place to cool down.

"It's amazing," said Dedre Erickson, of Fargo, who was returning to WE Fest for the first time since the 1980s. She liked what the festival has become.

"We're newbies. We love it," she said.

Joel McDonald of Woodlands, Manitoba, was likewise impressed with the new WE Bar.

"I think it's pretty cool," he said, sipping a Miller Lite. "It looks like it will be good."

He was less thrilled with the quality of the campgrounds as he said the port-a-potties in his camp site weren't cleaned.

Another new addition was to the VIP area, where dining had previously been under a pole tent. A newer temporary structure more than doubled the dining room side, allowing more space for fans to sit and relax.

While no one was hoping for bad weather, Becker County Sheriff Todd Glander said cooler weather can help keeps crowds calm and enjoying the event.

"It helps when it's not as hot, it's easier to stay hydrated. When people are hydrated they seem to have less problems," he said Thursday afternoon.

The rainbow that appeared during Ballerini's set couldn't have been more perfectly timed as she noticed it before kicking off the romantic "Dibs."

While the 23-year-old kept asking if the crowd was ready for country music, her poppy tunes, like "Roses" and "XO" sounded more like they'd be heard in dance clubs than honky tonks. She even did a solo acoustic take on the Chainsmokers' EDM number "Closer."

Her inclusion on the bill wasn't so out of place when you consider she's currently on the road with headliner Lady Antebellum.

Ballerini may not be a traditional country artist but she knows how to entertain a crowd. She wound out a version of "I Hate Love Songs" by working in parts of Little Big Town's "Girl Crush" and Keith Urban's "Blue Ain't Your Color."

She ended her set with her hit "Yeah Boy," singing much of it to a young boy on the side of the stage wearing headphones. He was more intrigued by the crowd than dancing with the young star which prompted the singer to giggle through most of the song.

She wasn't the only one smiling Thursday at WE Fest.

If You Go

What: WE Fest

When: Mainstage acts from 2:45 p.m. to 12:15 a.m., Thursday - Saturday

Where: Detroit Lakes, Minn.

Info: Tickets start at $105 for a single-day pass.

SIDEBAR:

Lineup

Today

2:45-3:45" target="_blank">wefest.com

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Lineup

Today

2:45-3:45 p.m. Logan Brill

4:15-5:15 p.m. Cody Johnson

5:45-7:15 p.m. Eli Young Band

8-9:30 p.m. Darius Rucker

10:15 p.m. - 12:15 a.m. Zac Brown Band

Saturday

3-4 p.m. Rae Lynn

4:30-5:45 p.m. Kane Brown

6:30-7:45 p.m. Randy Houser

8:30-9:45 p.m. Brett Eldredge

10:45 p.m. - 12:15 a.m. Luke Bryan