Weather Forecast


Sonshiners settle in for annual music festival in Willmar, Minn.

Sonshiners started setting up their tents Tuesday on the grounds of the Civic Center in north Willmar. The annual Christian music festival begins today. Tribune photo by Gary Miller

WILLMAR -- As volunteers worked to set up the main stage Tuesday, many Sonshiners arrived a day early to claim their grounds and stake their tents.

Veterans of the Christian music festival, Roxanne Bates and Ron Labo of Spooner, Wis., said they left at 5 a.m. Tuesday to stake out a spot close to the main stage. They've been going to the festival for 11 years and have been bringing their son, Diego, for the last decade.

"The first few years we didn't come early and we had to walk really far," Bates said.

Labo, who is disabled and walks with a cane, wanted to be closer to the main stage, so the family started arriving earlier for the annual festival, which begins today on the grounds of the Willmar Civic Center and concludes Saturday.

This year they had their tent set up by early afternoon and were planning on spending the remainder of the night resting.

Diego was up for the last two days making sure we made it to the festival, Bates said. "He's hooked."

"It's just good, clean fun," she said.

Others are also "hooked" on the festival aimed at families.

"We've been hearing about (Sonshine) since we bought the tickets," said Kerry Pintozzi of Belle Plaine, who brought her daughter and a few friends. The five girls and two moms came prepared with two tents, a volley ball net, games and a ton of food.

They said they were excited to see Jamie Grace, Third Day, Casting Crowns, Disciple and Newsboys.

Christina Stegeman of Willmar said she's excited about the lineup.

She has been volunteering in different areas of the festival for five years and said it's important to arrive early. She said she counts down the days until Sonshine every year.

Stegeman set up a tent yesterday afternoon with her mom Angie and brother Tyler.

"We're trying to push family," said Gary Crow, one Sonshine's three founders. "There's a little something for every age."

Ryan Earley of Detroit Lakes and his 8-year-old son, Ryan, were enjoying their first vacation in a long time.

"I live up to my last name," Earley said as he set up a canopy beside his tent. This is their first time at Sonshine, but Earley said he wanted to beat the rush.

Earley plays on a worship team at his church and said him and his son are excited to see the bands and spend some time together.

Today more families and church groups will arrive with campers, tents and canopies ready to spend the remainder of the week "roughing it" for Sonshine. The first performance is scheduled at 5 p.m. on the main stage.