Herald JournalHerald Journal, Feb. 21, 2005

Another major music festival coming to Winsted: Higher Ground

By Ryan Gueningsman
Staff Writer

Twelve years ago, a group of people from Winsted organized an event that has turned itself into one of the midwest’s top country music festivals.

As an idea from Winstock committee member Tom Ollig, among others, a group began meeting last July to explore the possibilities of having a Christian music festival on the Winstock grounds. This idea will become a reality Friday and Saturday, Aug. 19 and 20 with the creation of Higher Ground.

The idea for a Christian festival has been in the talk for three or four years. Ollig told Higher Ground Festival Chairman Bernie Lueck he could not do both events, plus all of the civic duties he has, plus his work, so Lueck said he’d be willing to help out and start organizing it.

A volunteer core committee formed with Lueck, his wife Karen Lueck, Terry and Julie Fasching, Josh and Lori Krych, Joe Neumann and his fianceé Melissa Burke, Lois Danielson, Stephanie Gillman, and Father Paul Wolf.

Headed by Lueck, the group began meeting every two weeks, exploring what it would take to put on a second music festival – and one of a different genre.

“A Christian festival has been in the back of our minds for a while,” Ollig said. “Bernie took the bull by the horns and now, it’s going to become a reality and be pretty neat.”

“I can’t say that I enjoy country music,” admitted Lueck, “and before this started, I can say I’ve never listened to Christian music. What I thought Christian music was, was gospel, and it is totally different than that.

“We are, as a whole, conservative as Catholics, and the music changed how I thought about Christian music. It is mainstream music with a different message – just like any other music we listen to.”

Some of the artists that Higher Ground has booked to perform include industry giants Rebecca St. James and Michael W. Smith, who Lueck referred to as the “Elvis” of Christian music – “without the drugs and peanut butter and banana sandwiches,” he said laughing.

“There’s some incredible talent out there,” Lueck said. “The acts that we have are top-notch. For a first year event, we got lucky – somebody was looking out for us. Michael W. has been around a long time. He’s just a huge artist in the industry.”

The Higher Ground committee worked with Gary Marx of Game Inc., the same promoter who books talent for Winstock, and Lueck said Marx has gone “above and beyond the call of duty” to put together the best possible line-up.

Kicking off the entertainment Friday, Aug. 19 at 3 p.m. is Ohio foursome Sanctus Real. The group received four Gospel Music Association (GMA) Dove Award nominations for its songs “Alone” and “Everything About You.” The GMA Awards will take place in Nashville Friday, April 15.

Also earning four Dove Award nominations is Christian trio BarlowGirl, who is set to take the stage at 5 p.m. following Sanctus Real. Since its release in February of last year, the self-titled debut CD from BarlowGirl has sold around 200,000 copies and as a result BarlowGirl was the best-selling new artist of 2004.

Higher Ground is lucky to have booked the edgy OC Supertones to perform on stage at 7 p.m. following BarlowGirl. It is, reportedly, the OC Supertones’ last year together and they are currently kicking off their farewell tour.

“As of right now, Winsted is the last date on their schedule, but more shows could be announced,” Lueck said.

After the OC Supertones, Minnesota native Sara Groves is set to play her hits, beginning at 9 p.m.

Groves, from Roseville, is quickly working her way to the top of the industry with four albums under her belt and several hit songs. Groves spent four years teaching high school before recording her independent disc, “Past the Wishing,” on a shoestring budget in 1998.

Closing out the show Friday is Christian music’s best – Michael W. Smith.

Getting his start in music opening for Amy Grant, Smith has released 18 albums and 10 books, as well as won countless Dove and Grammy awards. In the late 1970s, Smith played in a group called Higher Ground.

His songs “Breathe,” and “Purified,” along with numerous others, have become some of the most popular worship and spiritual songs of today.

In 1994, Smith founded a teen club called Rocketown in an effort to provide a place for teens to gather in a safe, loving environment in Brentwood, Tenn.

The following day before the music kicks in again, a sports pavilion will be in place on the festival grounds, featuring three-on-three basketball tournaments, six-on-six volleyball action, a climbing wall, and other activities.

“At Winstock, they entertain themselves,” Lueck said. “Here, we need to find something to entertain these people when we don’t have music playing.”

The music will begin Saturday, Aug. 20 with Fusebox at 2 p.m.

“Fusebox used to be the band for Rebecca St. James, so there will be a little reunion going,” Lueck said.

Following Fusebox on stage will be Tait, which features dc Talk singer Michael Tait, on stage at 4 p.m.

Trio Tree63 is scheduled to perform all of its hits like “Look What You’ve Done,” and “Treasure,” at 6 p.m.

The band Far From Home (FFH) will hit the stage at 8 p.m., following Tree63. The four members of FFH received a GMA Music Award nomination for its inspirational recorded song for the title track “Still The Cross” off its fifth studio album released in 2004.

Closing the show at Higher Ground 2005 is no stranger to the Christian music scene – Rebecca St. James.

Australia native St. James has hits like “Speak to Me,” “Wait For Me,” which she said has the most response of any song she has ever done, and “God.”

“She’s a big name,” Lueck said of St. James. “She has a huge following.”

Even with such an impressive lineup, the committee is trying to keep it as “relatively inexpensive as possible,” Lueck said, noting that for the first year, the committee is expecting between 3,000 and 5,000 attendees.

Tickets for the festival go on sale March 1, with press releases going out to newspapers and Christian radio stations.

“It’s $30 per campsite – very inexpensive. We’re trying to get the people in. People can camp up to six people per site,” Lueck said, also noting that the vendor set-up will be similar to Winstock, with plenty of choices for food and beverages. He also said the entire grounds and campground will be alcohol and tobacco free.

Like Winstock, Higher Ground will be a fundraiser for Holy Trinity.

“Everything is for Holy Trinity,” Lueck said. “The Winstock committee has given us more guidance than we could have ever expected out of them. They’ve done it for a long time, and they know what to do. We’re not saying we’re doing everything exactly the same as Winstock does, though.”

Also like Winstock, Higher Ground is run completely by volunteers, with a voucher system in place like Winstock has.

“We don’t need any less volunteers than what Winstock does,” Lueck said. “The only way we can make this work is to have great volunteers like we have in our community.”

For more information on Higher Ground

• More information about the festival can be found online at www.hgmusicfest.com.

• To hear music selections from most of these Christian artists, listen to KTIS 98.5 FM.

• The festival will take place at the Winstock grounds, located southwest of Winsted on McLeod County Road 5.

• Tickets for the two-day festival purchased before Wednesday, June 1 are $45. After June 1, ticket prices increase to $52. Camping passes are available for $30. Tickets go on sale Tuesday, March 1 and are available online, by calling 866-821-5151, and also at any Northwestern Bookstore location in the Twin Cities.

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