The cowboy hats, leather boots and daisy dukes returned in full force Wednesday night as WE Fest kicked-off their three-day festival with a pre-event bash at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes.

The Barn Stage featured performances by Shane Martin, TripWire and The Cadillac Three on Aug. 4, but, for annual event attendees, it brought back memories of festivals-past and a reunion of a family tradition spanning generations.

"It makes you feel young again," said June Green, of Rothsay, Minn. "We've seen things change through the years … and you just meet people from all over the country and they just want to socialize and have a good weekend."

Looking at their pair of packed picnic tables near the concessions, Green said, "A couple of them are my kids, and the rest of them are my kids' friends, and all of them have become my kids over the years."

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June and her husband, Greg, have been coming to the annual country jam for more than two decades. What started out as just the two of them, they said, turned into a family affair with their kids as they got older, who invited their friends. Now, with more than 25 people in their party and a caravan of seven RVs, June said their family has gotten a lot bigger.

The first act to perform during the kick-off concert was Shane Martin, of Albertville, Minn., who previously played the at the festival in 2015.

"It kind of hit me before we went out there, I was thinking like, 'hey, we're kicking off WE Fest,'" said Martin. "It's very special. The crowd was phenomenal, I mean, we enjoyed coming up here in 2015 and this was even better just because last with everything being shut down and this year everybody is just loving to come together with live music, and we're loving it too."

He also said bookings for the band have gone from "zero to a hundred" since the lifting of the state's COVID-19 restrictions in May.

Shane Martin performs on the Saloon Stage during the 2021 WE Fest kick-off bash at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Shane Martin performs on the Saloon Stage during the 2021 WE Fest kick-off bash at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

On Thursday, Aug. 5, emerging artist Ingrid Andress performed on the Main Stage as one of the openers for first night headliner Florida Georgia Line. Angela Amundson of Dilworth said she only bought her Thursday festival pass because she really wanted to see Andress perform and she had seen the headliners separately at other events.

"She's one of the ones I haven't seen yet, and I love her song, 'Lady Like,'" said Amundson. "So, I'm excited, but she hasn't sang it yet, I'm waiting for it."

Ingred Andress performs on the Main Stage during the opening night of WE Fest 2021 at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Ingred Andress performs on the Main Stage during the opening night of WE Fest 2021 at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Andress performed 'Lady Like' last; much to the delight of Amundson who sang along with her from the crowd.

Ingred Andress performs on the Main Stage during the opening night of WE Fest 2021 at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Ingred Andress performs on the Main Stage during the opening night of WE Fest 2021 at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Rick Kennedy shows off WE Fest pins on his hat during the opening night of WE Fest 2021 at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Rick Kennedy shows off WE Fest pins on his hat during the opening night of WE Fest 2021 at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 5, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

Dierks Bentley and Blake Shelton will headline the Aug. 6 and 7 respectively, with thousands of festival-eager fans expected to descend on Soo Pass Ranch, near Detroit Lakes, Minn., for the music and camping.

The start of the festival caused event attendee Corrina Wilson, of Blaine, Minn., to remember her fondest memories of the annual event.

"I remember one year, I was backstage and I was coming back from backstage and this guy had his back to me," said Wilson. "And I said, 'excuse me, sir ' … and he turned around and it was Mel McDaniel, and I was like, 'um … um, can I get my picture with you?'"

Wilson said she's been coming to the country fest since the 1980s and has met many lifelong friends from attending the event.

Country music fans smile for a group photo during the 2021 WE Fest kick-off bash at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)
Country music fans smile for a group photo during the 2021 WE Fest kick-off bash at Soo Pass Ranch near Detroit Lakes, Minn., on Aug. 4, 2021. (Michael Achterling / Detroit Lakes Tribune)

She also said, one year, she and her friend made it onto George Strait's tour bus. He had just spent about $10,000 on an interior LED starfield on the bus' ceiling, she said.

"That's what they told me anyway," said Wilson. "I have a lot of good memories like that."

She also said one of her favorite memories from those concerts is making it onto the side of the stage to watch legendary country artist Kenny Rogers perform. The band she's most excited to see is Dierks Bentley, who will headline on Friday, Aug. 6.

"I am pumped for this weekend," she said. "I was working from my laptop earlier, before I came up here, just so I could enjoy the rest of the weekend."