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Sonshine: Behind the scenes: Volunteers, vendors prepare for annual Willmar music festival

Will Danielson of Longview, Texas, from left, Craig Holden of Fargo, N.D., and his brother, Lance Holden of Wilton, N.D., work high above the main stage Tuesday at the Sonshine Festival site in Willmar. The trio agreed that they volunteer at the Christian music event in order to "give back" for the blessings they have received in life. (Tribune photo by Gary Miller)1 / 2
Jayson Webster of Minneapolis sets up a tent Tuesday at Sonshine in Willmar. The camping area, known as Tent City, opened Tuesday.(Tribune photo by Gary Miller)2 / 2

WILLMAR -- Securing a roof in mid-air with nothing but a safety harness might intimidate some people. But not Will Danielson. For him, it's just another day at Sonshine.

The 29th annual Christian music festival won't begin until tonight with a free concert by Remedy Drive and Family Force 5, but volunteers have been working since early Monday morning to prepare for the 20,000 people who will be in town this week for Sonshine.

Danielson's job, along with brothers Craig Holden and Lance Holden, was to secure the roof on the Main Stage, where the festival's best-known artists will perform. The three men worked for hours on Monday and Tuesday to make sure the stage would be ready for this evening.

"God gave me these talents, so I'm giving back," said Danielson, who has volunteered at the last six Sonshine festivals.

Danielson and the Holden brothers are no strangers to this kind of work. All three worked on the Fargodome, an indoor stadium in Fargo, N.D., that serves as both an athletic arena and a concert venue. They have also volunteered at Sonshine before: Danielson for six years, Craig Holden and Lance Holden for two.

"I enjoy the people," Craig Holden said. "It's a break from the ordinary."

After the stage is secure, the three men will spend the rest of the week helping with spotlights, lighting and "anything technical," Danielson said. "We'll do anything they need us to."

Other volunteers shared the same spirit Tuesday afternoon as they worked under the hot sun to prepare the grounds. One group, the Rochester-based Youth for Christ, arrived Sunday evening and worked for nearly two days straight to put up fencing around the entire festival perimeter.

"It's a hard kind of work, but it's a good kind of work," said the group's director Gary Kadansky, who has been bringing youth volunteers to the festival for 12 years. "It's hard until the kids learn how to do it. Most of them haven't done fencing or drilled posts before."

Their work won't end Thursday when the concerts begin, Kadansky said, but even though they'll be working, there are certain benefits to volunteering at the festival. While they're setting up or taking down the stages, many of the volunteers have the opportunity to meet the artists backstage.

"Last year, I got pictures with every single artist I wanted," said Youth for Christ member Leah King, a three-time Sonshine volunteer from Rochester. King has also met Solomon Olds, aka "Soul Glow Activatur" from the band Family Force 5, and she got to play catch with 2009 Grammy-nominated artist Jeremy Camp.

Besides meeting the bands, Kadansky said part of the fun of volunteering is meeting new people and seeing old friends.

"A lot of friendships are built (at Sonshine)," he said. "And there's a sense of family when you come back. It's like a reunion."

That same sense of community applies to the festival's vendors as well, who also began to set up their stands on Tuesday.

Virgel Kroeker, owner of the two Hawaiian shaved ice stands at Sonshine, has been working the festival for 18 years, and each year, he parks his stands in the exact same spot.

"This has been our spot for years," he said. "All the vendors around us are also in the same spot every year."

Kroeker is crossing his fingers for good weather this week. He makes his summer income by traveling to festivals like Sonshine and serving his shaved ice. During the winter, he works as a piano tuner in Mission, Texas.

"(My wife and I) are a unique breed of people," Kroeker said. "We live in our RV over the summer. Wherever we park it, that's home."

Sonshine couldn't survive without the hundreds of volunteers and vendors who work long hours to make the festival a success. But they enjoy their work and the sense of satisfaction that goes along with it.

"It's a more fun experience than just going to the festival," said Youth for Christ member Taylor Hutchins, of Stewartville. "We get to help create it."

Ashley White

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

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