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Steven Mackenzie, left, a stage and roof technician for Loud and Clear Inc., and Anderson Philips, 24, a volunteer from Nashville, work on the main stage of the Sonshine Festival Monday afternoon in Willmar. (Tribune photo by TJ Jerke)

Workers transform Civic Center area into Sonshine Festival on edge of Willmar, Minn.

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news Willmar, 56201
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

WILLMAR -- As the saying goes, "if you build it, they will come."

The saying, intended to encourage Kevin Costner's character in "The Field of Dreams" to build a baseball stadium that would draw in former baseball players, can also be applied to the 20,000 that are expected to attend the 2011 Sonshine Festival.

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Festival Director Bob Poe said volunteers and professionals work hard the two days preceding the festival to erect the four stages that will hold more than 100 bands and set up the area that is expected to house about 12,000 campers (see related story on Page A3) during the four-day festival that begins at 7 tonight at the Willmar Civic Center.

"It's a pretty cool two days," Poe said. "People come for the festival and come back later and don't know where the main stage was -- it's a large transformation."

Beginning at 8 a.m. Monday, about 20 professionals and 70 volunteers put together the stages, attached the blue-tarp roof to the main stage and unloaded light and sound equipment off of trucks and onto the stage.

Poe said it takes seven semi-trailers to deliver all the equipment needed for the festival. About $100,000 is spent on audio and lighting during the week, he said, with the festival bill totaling about $1.2 million.

Steven Mackenzie, a stage and roof technician for Loud and Clean Inc., said the main stage, which will hold headliner bands such as Toby Mac and the Newsboys, is 105 feet wide by 40 feet deep, sporting at least 50 speakers.

Two 25-by-25-foot video screens positioned on either side of the main stage and a video screen along the back wall of the stage will also give festival-goers the opportunity to see the stage from a distance.

This year, the festival took out one stage, Poe said, keeping the same number of bands while utilizing the main stage.

"We have the best audio and video on the main stage, why not use them?" Poe said.

The main stage, an indoor stage, the showmobile and a kids' stage will be the four stages with bands and speakers this year.

To help with the setup, Anderson Philips, 24, of Nashville, rode a bus for 18 hours to volunteer for the festival. Philips, who works in the music industry, has hopes to put on his own festival in a few years in Georgia.

"I just wanted to see the production side of music," he said.

Deja Lind, 17, of Preston, was put to work Monday morning as well experiencing her first trip to the festival.

"I wanted to serve in some way," Lind said while working on the sound and light area for the main stage. "It's easier than I thought it would be, but it's still hard."

As the sun beamed down on the volunteers Tuesday afternoon, work continued on the stage in the Blue Line Arena while the main Civic Center arena was prepped for the various booths that will go up today.

Kevin Madsen, Civic Center operations supervisor, said Monday that Civic Center crews had been working for two weeks preparing for the heavy influx of festival-goers and bands.

Fifteen food vendors will also be positioned near the main stage in the east Civic Center parking lot. Many of which, including Subway and Dominos, had trailers and booths geared up for the festival Tuesday afternoon.

The sweat and tears by the countless volunteers who put the festival together will be noticed tonight as the band Switchfoot is set to headline the main stage beginning at 9:20 p.m.

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