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Weather dampens attendance at Sonshine Festival

WILLMAR, Minn. — As this year's Sonshine Festival wrapped up Saturday, the rain and mud left the strongest impression on those in attendance.

With a festival-ending performance by the Grammy-nominated Newsboys on the Willmar Civic Center grounds, thousands of tents and campers had cleared out by Sunday, with some looking forward to next year's festival.

"Every evening was great," Festival Director Bob Poe said. "We were able to get everything done and stay on schedule."

Poe said the number of attendees was down this year, something attributed to the three days of rain that began the festival.

"There was too much rain and not enough sunshine," Poe said. "Ticket pre-sales were ahead of last year's but daily sales were down."

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Darris Retzer, 15, of St. Cloud said the mud created by the rain made some things difficult but added to the overall experience.

"Life is what you make of it, and we made a big slip and slide," he said.

As Retzer and Madison Hultgren, 14, of St. Cloud, were trudging through the mud carrying their tents to their trailer Saturday afternoon, Hultgren disagreed with Retzer saying, "the festival was fun, but the mud was really not."

The two were part of a 72-person youth group from Calvary Community Church in St. Cloud, Retzer said.

As the temperatures rose Saturday, other campers began packing up for the trip home.

Amy Thomson, 21, of Ecola Bible School in Cannon Beach, Ore., was reorganizing her van to get ready for a three-day trip home.

She said she'd been to five other Christian festivals throughout the summer, adding she "enjoyed parts" of Sonshine, "but it wasn't a fantastic lineup."

"The main stage was hard to see uphill," she said.

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She said the vendor area inside the Civic Center was a plus and enabled her to talk to others about her Bible School.

Neil Day of Superior, Wis., a self-proclaimed metal-head, was participating in his third Sonshine. He said this year was enjoyable but the performances were the same.

"Skillet was different," he said. "But everything else was pretty standard."

Day came with a brother-in-law and five nieces and nephews. He said seeing them having fun makes the festival worth the trip.

"We come for the bands and fellowship," he said. "It's nice to have the kids see a bunch of people who believe in the same thing."

Planning for next year's festival has already begun, Poe said.

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