3-Day Music Festival Puts Plumbing to the Test

50,000 guests swarm Minnesota site, clogging toilets with cellphones, cowboy hats, wallets and a whole lot of clothing.
3-Day Music Festival Puts Plumbing to the Test
Restrooms at the WE Fest grounds become flooded with cellphones, shoes, glow sticks and lots of clothing during the three-day annual event. (Photo courtesy Grand Forks Herald)

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Keeping the water flowing and toilets flushing can be a challenge during the three days of WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota. Each August, the typically tranquil resort community of 9,000 swells to over 50,000 during the event, billed as America’s Largest Country Music and Camping Festival. The guest list for this year’s 34th show included Eric Church, Kid Rock and Tim McGraw.

For all of about one week, the WE Fest grounds at Soo Pass Ranch remain relatively untouched – restrooms included. In spring, drains are cleaned and water lines recharged.

“We actually start in May putting stuff together – hooking it up and bleeding the water lines and checking everything over. It’s a couple weeks of putting everything together,” says Nick Green, owner of Green’s Plumbing and Heating in Detroit Lakes.

“We have six to eight guys on site just to get everything back together. Its copper plumbing lines throughout and the facilities are getting up in age,” he says. “We replace piping, solder, braze, ProPress – whatever we need to do.”

The festival site has five restrooms in the concert hall and three in the campgrounds.

“During the concert there are between two and four of us on site,” says Green, whose father, Mark Green, first landed the plumbing contract about 25 years ago when the ranch installed flushing toilets.

Keeping the lines open during the annual invasion can be an all-day – and often late-night – job.

Depending on what’s taking place, crews will be on site as early as 8 a.m. and remain until midnight.

“We only come on when the show comes on. Noon is when we get started again for sure, although we’ll get started earlier if there’s something major that has to be fixed in the morning.”

Through the years Green and his crew have fished out cellphones, eye glasses, cans, glow sticks, shoes, cowboy hats, jewelry, wallets – and a whole lot of clothing.

“We take a toilet rod and rod them,” Green says. “If we can’t physically pull it out, we pull the toilet and knock them out. And sometimes we can pull it out again too. But half the time we knock it down the drainline.”

Green has no idea how many cellphones he’s fished out or how they even get into the toilets.

“I think they drop it down in there, it’s ruined anyway and they don’t want to deal with it,” he says. “They don’t want to touch it again.”

Green and his team return to the site after the festival and begin preparing for the following year.

 “We’ll tear it down and drain everything out because nothing’s winterized up here in the north,” he says.

A former US Army Ranger, Green served in Afghanistan and Irag. He's a licensed master plumber and became sole owner of the fourth-generation business in 2013.


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