South Dakota family has legendary campsite at WE Fest
“One year, LoCash plugged in and played,” Betty Sipe said. “There were maybe 300 or 400 people here for that concert,” Mike Sipe added. “It was great.”
DETROIT LAKES, Minn. — There are many legendary people at campsites in the WE Fest grounds during the three-day country music festival. Some are known for offering friendship and a refreshing beverage, some entertaining games, and others go the distance in decorating their campsite.
The Midland Publishing campsite may be one of the most famous, as it offers the trifecta of the essence of WE Fest camping.
Mike and Betty Sipe, who own Midland Publishing of Milbank, S.D., arrive well before the festival begins. Before any camping gear is brought on site, the area is mowed, weed-whacked and sprayed for bugs.
A few days later, the family returns with campers, tents, a bar, tables and a spectacular sound system in tow. On Wednesday, several RVs were circled like a wagon train to provide a private party area. An entrance to the party area was located under a canopy strung with lights. Fake grass carpet led visitors to a central hub. In the center, tables with picture books of WE Fest lore from past years invited walks down memory lane.
The Sipe’s WE Fest journey began nearly 20 years ago. A friend had extra tickets to the county music festival — which started in 1983 with about 9,000 people attending.
When Sipe and his family first attended WE Fest in the early 2000s, more than 100,000 people were camping and concert-going there — with a maximum of 50,000 in the concert bowl, according to a WE Fest co-owner at the time. The laid-back atmosphere, geared toward bonding and having a good time, was just the summer getaway Mike could see his family and friends taking for years to come.
“I had such a great time that I became a sponsor,” he said, adding he was provided with a small camper corner near the backstage access area. “To start we had three campers, now we have 21. Family, friends and customers all come with us to WE Fest.”
The Midland Publishing crew brings between 70 and 120 people to the festival, on average.
“This year we have 75,” Mike said.
There was a short period when the Sipes stepped away from the music festival. However, when he heard general manager Mark Bjerke returned to the leadership role, that alone was a reason to kick up the country once again.
“Mark is just great,” Sipe said. “He’s easy to get along with and organizes a great event.”
Upon returning, Mike was happy to see familiar faces had returned to work at the event. He noted that he had gotten to know many of them through the years.
His wife added that, for them, the festival equates to fun and an opportunity to strengthen the ties that bind families and friendships. Those bonding moments usually happened in one of two wings in the Midland Publishing campground.
The east wing offered canopy-covered sitting space and a sound system ready for visits by big names in country music, complete with fog machines and laser lights.
“One year, LoCash plugged in and played,” Betty said.
The Sipe’s 28-year-old daughter Madisen recalled the night before the LoCash campground concert, a storm blew through and “leveled the tents.” The morning after the Midland Publishing campers rebuilt the campsite.
Their 32-year-old son Nick estimated more than 40 people had worked together to return the campsite to its former glory. The teamwork was rewarded later that night with a visit from the popular country singer.
“There were maybe 300 or 400 people here for that concert,” Mike said. “It was great.”
The west wing of the Midland Publishing campsite offers a game tent, more tables and a live-edge, family-built bar made from a red cedar tree. Mike said many stories of WE Fest adventures have been shared at the bar, as well as moments where two friends finally caught up with one another to share their life stories. While half the heart of WE Fest is the great concerts, building relationships and having fun at the campgrounds is the other half.