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Josh Clutter, lead guitarist with the band Love Out Loud body surfs the crowd Saturday during the band's main stage performance. Tribune photo by Ron Adams

Attendance up at this year's Sonshine

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Attendance up at this year's Sonshine
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR - A combination of a strong lineup and more promotion paid off for this year's Sonshine Music Festival.

While official numbers won't be in for a few weeks, this year's festival attendance was up from the 2012 festival's numbers, when it saw a significant decrease in attendance.


"It'll take a few weeks to get numbers from all of the bookstores where we sold tickets, but it is definitely up from last year," Bob Poe, executive director of Sonshine, said. "When you have a great lineup that includes tobyMac and Skillet, you can expect your numbers to be up. They're pretty popular within Christian music."

Poe and his team with Sonshine did more promotion than their usual mailings, social media and emails this year to get the word out.

"We went to a lot of regional events and regional concerts, so there was a lot more face-to-face promotion," Poe said. "We did the stuff that needs to be done but then we connected with folks where they live. I've talked to a lot of folks who are here for their first time, which is what we like to see."

Poe said the weather also helped this year, not just from upping attendance, but also in helping avoid any significant problems.

"It was hot, dusty and windy, but it was dry, which we like to see," he said. "If the weather is good, then everything else is good. In the past, with storms and tornadoes, we've had to worry about our roof and rearranging the schedule and trying to make up the time we lost, but there was none of that this year."

Fans said the weather helped make their Sonshine experience a good one.

"Even though the first two days were hot, it really cooled down for the rest of the week," Kari Wurth, of Kearney, Neb., said. "(Saturday) was great. There was no rain so that's all that mattered, since we're camping in a tent."

Wurth's friend Lisa Peterson, of Kearney, Neb., said the combination of the weather and the bands made this the best Sonshine she's attended.

"This is my fourth Sonshine, and it's definitely just been great all around," Peterson said. "This year's bands were amazing, especially tobyMac and Family Force 5, and the weather has made it so much more enjoyable. You can't complain about the hot weather too much; it is summer, so what else would we expect?"

Bryan Miller, of Deadwood, S.D., said his first Sonshine experience already has him excited about next year.

"I heard about Sonshine from some friends at college, so I came with them this year," Miller said. "I don't think I even care what the lineup is for next year; I plan on coming no matter what."

Miller said he saw Sonshine as a good way to spend time with his college friends and to meet new people from all over the country.

"Camping out here has been a cool experience," he said. "It's kind of like a big party with everyone who's in your area, even the people you just met. It's kind of crazy how far some people come from."

Luke Donahue, of Rock Rapids, Iowa, said his only complaint about Sonshine was Wednesday and Thursday's hot weather.

"And that's probably not really something I should complain about, since no one has control over that," Donahue said. "Everything about Sonshine was pretty awesome this year, definitely better than last year."

The festival's organizers are already preparing for next year's Sonshine. Poe said they started selling tickets for next year on-site at this year's price. Any patrons who bought tickets received a free Sonshine t-shirt with their purchase.

They've also started thinking about bands for next year.

"We've been talking to some of the new bands we brought in this year to see what they're thinking, and fans always have request lists, so we're making note of those," Poe said. "We'll start in September figuring out who we want to headline and what other bands we want to play."

Part of that will include reaching out to fans through social media to see who they want in the lineup.

"If our fans don't come, then our work is for nothing," Poe said.