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Setting the stage for 33rd annual Sonshine: Preparations under way; campers settle in

WILLMAR — On Tuesday campers were setting up campsites, stage crews were building the stages, food vendors were trickling in with their trailers and local Willmar stores were preparing for increased sales before Sonshine’s concerts begin tonight at 6 p.m.

The cool weather yesterday was a relief for the workers who helped set up the stage since in previous years the weather has been known to be blazing hot with sunny skies.

According to Bob Poe, festival director, it takes four semi-trucks to haul all of the sound equipment, lighting equipment and stages to the festival. The company that supplies the materials sends 27 workers to help set up but the rest of the construction is completed by volunteers.

“It is a lot of work to help set up the stage but it is fun too,” said Stephon Schaller, one of the stage crew volunteers who was working on Tuesday. “All the volunteers are given free admission as payment. It is hard work but it is definitely worth it every year.”

Around 300 volunteers sign up to work four three-hour shifts throughout the weekend to keep Sonshine running smoothly according to Linda Friedlein, the volunteer coordinator for Sonshine.

The volunteers do all the behind the scenes work like directing traffic, selling tickets, setting up the stage and running merchandise booths for bands in the civic center.

Although campsites are not technically allowed to be set up until 10 a.m. today, the Sharp family, along with many others claimed their spots near Willmar Senior High School on Tuesday.

“We plan these trips months ahead of time and love being here every year,” said Jen Sharp. “This community always supports us when we come, so we do our best to support the community by shopping in town and supporting local businesses when we get here.”

Local stores and groceries have been preparing for an increase in sales by stocking extra items for campers who may have waited until arriving to buy certain items like food and water or who may have forgotten to pack some summertime essentials.

“We sell a lot of summer items like lawn chairs, sunscreen, bug spray, bottled water and ice during Sonshine,” said Chad Primus, manager of Cash Wise Foods in Willmar.

Some residents of Willmar tend to see the increased traffic and congestion that accompany Sonshine to Willmar as an inconvenience. Primus, however, sees the five-day rush as being extremely beneficial to the Willmar community.

The weather for Sonshine looks promising with multiple weather sources predicting mild weather with 70-to-80-degree daytime high temperatures and partly sunny skies through Sunday.

Today, church groups, families and groups of friends are expected to arrive and set up camp for the weekend to enjoy the music and activities that Sonshine provides.

The music festival starts tonight with live musical performances on five stages featuring artists from a wide variety of music genres. Performances begin at 11 a.m. Thursday through Saturday on every stage except the indoor stage where they begin at 10 a.m. Tickets to the festival are still available for purchase at the main gate by the Willmar Civic Center. For more information or a schedule of show times visit