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Thousands arriving this week in Willmar, Minn., for Sonshine

WILLMAR -- Willmar will nearly double in size later this week as Christian music fans flood the Willmar Civic Center grounds pitching tents and pulling out couches for the 31st annual Sonshine Music Festival.

The event, which started in 1982, has attracted as many as 23,000 attendees to enjoy music, create memories and celebrate tradition.

Kicking off with a main stage performance by the Christian rock band We Are Leo at 5 p.m. Wednesday, the festival will run four days through Saturday. About 120 bands will perform on four different stages.

The line-up includes big-name Christian artists Switchfoot, Thousand Foot Krutch, Casting Crowns, Third Day, Relient K, Newsboys and Fireflight. A couple artists new to Sonshine will also be performing: Group 1 Crew and Brian Head Welch.

"A lot of folks are excited about hearing them," said Bob Poe, executive director of Sonshine.

Also new this year is the Sonshine Circus, which will perform in the Blue Line Center each day of the festival.

"By night, it'll be our HM stage. By day, it'll be a circus," Poe said with a laugh. "We're trying to cater to the younger families."

The circus will include clowns, trapeze artists and jugglers.

There will also be pony rides, games, inflatables and the Kids' Zone, where parents can enjoy arts and crafts with their children.

About 3,000 to 4,000 tickets have already been sold, which is down from last year's pre-sale tickets, but Poe said he still expects a good crowd.

Full event tickets for adults are $94 in advance or $99 at the gate. Full event tickets for children ages 7 to 11 are $35 at all times. Children 6 and younger are admitted free.

Willmar residents with a 56201 ZIP code can receive 50 percent off the full event ticket price by visiting the Youth for Christ office at 106 Litchfield Ave. prior to the event.

"When you double the city, everyone puts up with a lot of stuff, so this is our way of saying 'thank you' for being such a good host city," Poe said.

Groups of 20 or more may purchase a full event ticket for $84 apiece.

Single-day tickets may also be purchased for $40 in advance or $45 at the gate. Single day tickets for Wednesday, when the festival is only open for half a day, are $15 at the gate.

Ticket upgrades that include pit passes and meet-and-greet sessions with the artists are also available.

General RV parking and tent camping is free, but premium spaces are available for a fee.

The main entrance for Sonshine Festival is on Civic Center Drive in northeastern Willmar. Vehicles will be directed to camping or parking from there.

For a full list the artists and more information about Sonshine, visit