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Sonshiners beat weather, boredom of festival down time with fun ideas

Josh Johnson, at center wearing white shirt, a youth director with the Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud, organizes a group of 60 students from the church Wednesday who were all camping in the same area at the Sonshine Festival in Willmar. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)1 / 2
Jake Johnson of Albertville, a musician performing at this year's Sonshine Festival with the band "Love Out Loud," plays his guitar Wednesday on a couch in the camping area. The group of friends brought the couch for a second year of collecting signatures and phone numbers of new friends. (Tribune photo by Ron Adams)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Not even heavy bouts of pouring rain could dampen Sonshiners' spirits as they continued to arrive at the festival Wednesday.

All morning and afternoon, groups of people showed up at the grounds surrounding the Willmar Civic Center ready to pitch their tents, settle in and enjoy a night of music on the Main Stage.

Sonshine kicked off Wednesday evening with a free concert by Remedy Drive and Family Force 5, and the festival officially begins at 9 this morning and continues until late Saturday.

Campers, however, could begin showing up as early as Tuesday, and many were finding creative ways to stay busy until the rest of the 20,000 expected festival attendees arrived.

"We were bored outta our minds yesterday," said Travis Johansen, a five-time Sonshiner from Minnetrista, on Wednesday. "But once the festival gets in full swing, it will be harder to meet people and find people."

Last year, Johansen and his friends brought a couch to the festival and signed their names on it with Sharpies. After a while, other festival-goers approached them and asked if they could sign the couch, too. By the end of the festival, the couch was covered in nearly 500 signatures, phone numbers and messages from new friends they had met over the weekend.

They brought the couch back this year and also came with a new one so that they could collect more signatures and meet more people. They also texted everyone who had left their phone number on last year's couch and told them to come back and say hi.

"It was really cool to have it last year," said Alec Marshall, who's been coming to Sonshine from Minnetrista for three years. "Now it's become a tradition."

Other groups are also celebrating their own traditions this weekend. A youth group from Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud has been bringing junior high, high school and college students to Sonshine for the past six years. On Wednesday afternoon, they were busy trying to figure out how they would squeeze 60 people in a camping area that could probably only fit half of them comfortably.

"It is gonna be tight," youth director Josh Johnson said with a laugh. "Junior-highers will probably have to squish together a little more."

Johnson said even though the ages in his youth group range from seventh-graders to college seniors, Sonshine offers something for everyone -- from classic Christian to heavy metal.

"(Sonshine) definitely breaks some of those stereotypes about followers of Jesus Christ," Johnson said. "For those who don't know Jesus, they can find the message in the music. And for students that do know Jesus, they get to see thousands of others who also have relationships with Him."

Johansen and his group of friends also said they enjoy meeting people who share their faith. Even though 20,000 people attend the festival, they always feel a sense of community with other Sonshiners, they said.

"Here, you can walk up to a complete stranger and introduce yourself," Johansen said. "People are so generous, and they really help each other out. It's definitely a cool atmosphere."

And if the rain refuses to let up for the rest of the festival?

"Well, then everyone curls up on our couch and sings 'Kumbaya,'" Marshall said, laughing.

Ashley White

Ashley White is the community content coordinator for the West Central Tribune. Follow her on Twitter @Ashley_WCT.

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