By Ryan Gueningsman
DHJ Managing Editor
WINSTED, MN Winstock is “on the road again” to one of its best festivals yet, as headliners Blake Shelton and Martina McBride, along with the legendary Willie Nelson, are en route to Winsted for the 19th annual festival this weekend.
Nationally-known country music artists joining Shelton, McBride, and Nelson include Winstock favorite Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Gary Allan, Uncle Kracker, Frankie Ballard, Sunny Sweeney, and Rocket Club, in addition to emerging artists Dustin Lynch, Wade Bowen, and Brett Eldredge.
“We definitely were lucky to get Blake to be at our event this year, with everything that’s gone on with him,” Winstock Country Music Festival Chairman Dave Danielson said, reflecting on Shelton’s recent career highlights such as serving as a judge for television’s “The Voice.”
“And, with Willie, what more can be said?” Danielson added. “We like to always have a good mix of country both old and new.”
Danielson said he is also excited about Martina McBride headlining Friday night, and said she is always a “crowd-pleaser.”
“She’s got some really good, neat new stuff out right now,” Danielson said.
Another artist Danielson said he is excited to be welcoming back to Winstock is Gary Allan, who Danielson said has released a lot of music since he first appeared at Winstock in 2003.
A special celebration taking place at Winstock this year will be helping the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band commemorate “Fishin’ in the Dark,” which was released 25 years ago, in June 1987.
Uncle Kracker will also be making his Winstock debut, which Danielson said should segue well into performances from Allan and Shelton.
“Saturday night is going to be rocking,” he said. “The younger crowd definitely loved to hear that Uncle Kracker was part of our event this year, so we do try to cater to all age groups and get music that everybody can enjoy.”
Rounding out the main stage lineup for Winstock 2012 is Sweeney, along with Frankie Ballard, who was a late addition to the Winstock lineup due to a scheduling conflict with the previously-signed JaneDear girls. Minnesota-favorite Rocket Club will also be kicking things off Saturday afternoon.
Danielson said he is also excited to see Dustin Lynch as part of the emerging artist lineup for this year’s festival.
“I think Dustin is definitely a diamond in the rough,” Danielson said. “I can honestly see him being a Blake Shelton in a couple of years, and perhaps headline down the road. Sometimes, just by hearing these artists, you can get a feel of those who are going to make it and have the potential to just do it.”
Bowen is popular in the south and is finally getting his big break on a national scale, and Eldredge had a recent hit with “Raymond.”
Plenty of local talent is also on the bill this year, with The Unleaded Band kicking things off Thursday night in the beer tent, and Tim Sigler getting things going Friday night. WYLEE, another local favorite, has been slotted for two performances at this year’s festival Friday night on the Emerging Artists Stage, and Saturday at the annual pre-show beer tent party.
What to watch for at Winstock 2012
In addition to the top-notch lineup in place, Winstock organizers have also been continually making improvements to the festival grounds and camping areas.
Danielson said more rock has been put down, and work has taken place on the roads at the festival grounds. Additional drain tiling was also installed.
He said minor improvements have been made to some of the Winstock ticket booths, and said some work was also done in the front-of-house area near the stage. A new shed was also built for the Winstock souvenirs.
Danielson said, like every year, there are a few low spots in the campgrounds.
“The recent rain we had definitely caused some extra work in trying to get the campgrounds ready for the event, but with the extended forecast looking so positive, it looks excellent, with good drying-out days,” he said.
In its second year, the beanbag tournament will again be taking place Thursday night near the food tent. Visit the Winstock website for more details.
Another special promotion taking place at Winstock 2012 is a tour stop by Jake and John Leinenkugel and the Leinie’s Airstream as part of the Leinenkugel’s Family Road Trip. Leinenkugel’s will offer samples of its most popular beers. A few new brews might even make an appearance. This will be taking place at Winstock near the Leinenkugel’s beer tent from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday.
What to know to go
• VIP tickets to this year’s festival are sold out, but a number of reserved seats ($180) will be available at the gate and online at shop.winstockfestival.com.
General admission tickets ($120) and camping passes ($90) are also available at the gates and online.
Orders placed through Wednesday, June 6 at 5 p.m. will be at will call. Orders with general admission or reserved tickets will be at the main ticket booth by general parking. Orders that are for camping and tickets will be at the appropriate campgrounds.
Winstock is a rain-or-shine event.
• Gates to the music area open for admission at 2 p.m. Friday, and 9:30 a.m. Saturday. Campgrounds will open for admission Thursday from 3 until 9 p.m., and Friday at 9:30 a.m.
• This year’s campsite decorating contest theme is “Your favorite Willie Nelson song.” Plan ahead, and be prepared to decorate your campsite according to your favorite Nelson hit. Full rules and details can be found online.
• Proceeds from Winstock are used to help fund private education at Holy Trinity Schools of Winsted.
• The Winsted Fire Department spaghetti dinner will be Thursday at the food tent, beginning at 5 p.m. Anyone can attend the dinner.
• For full-length artist interviews, more information, and last-minute updates, watch www.winstockfestival.com and also “like” Winstock on Facebook.
A 2013 sellout?
With Winstock’s 20th anniversary coming up in 2013, Danielson said organizers already are in the planning stages for that event.
“As with every year, we are going to do what we can to bring the best possible lineup to Winstock in 2013,” he said. “We’re definitely trying to step it up a notch every year.”
Danielson said there is the possibility of a sellout, which would be the first in Winstock’s history.
“I would definitely get everything you need at this year’s event for next year to guarantee your spots,” he added.
Reflecting that Winstock will be hitting its 20th event, Danielson said with a laugh, “Physically, it makes me feel really old. There are just a lot of good people.
“It’s the people that make this thing happen. It’s the hard-working, dedicated volunteers that have made it what it is. Entertainers come and go, but without the volunteers, we have nothing.”