It’s been one kick’n up ride: Ardell Larson steps back as Kick’ N Up Kountry CEO
Having attended the country music festival, the WE Fest in Detroit Lakes, Minn., for 20 years, Ardell Larson of Lake Bronson, Minn., had watched this festival grow from its very first day.
“As I seen it getting bigger and bigger,” Larson said, “I thought, ‘Man, would that ever be something great to have in this northwest corner of the state.’”
Believing they were far enough from Detroit Lakes and thinking about the potential Canadian draw, Larson—considering herself a community-minded person— decided to make this thought a reality. She started the Kick’ N Up Kountry Music Festival in 2004 at the age of 60.
Now, following the 2021 Kick’ N Up Kountry music festival, Larson is taking a step back as the event’s CEO, passing those reins to Mattracks CEO, Glen Brazier, who has assisted Larson with this event for some time.
Larson spoke about the festival’s changes over the years, her thoughts and feelings on what it has grown into, what she has enjoyed most about being part of this music festival, the decision to step back, the ways she plans to stay involved, and words of thanks she has.
The festival has experienced numerous site changes over the years. It first began in Hallock, remaining there for three years. Then, in 2007, the event moved to the Pennington County Fairgrounds in Thief River Falls and remained there through 2010. Then the festival returned to Kittson County in 2011 after Glen Brazier bought land west of Karlstad— the now permanent home of the music festival known as Wagon Wheel Ridge.
Asked what she has enjoyed most about leading this festival, Larson mentioned how she has enjoyed many things— flipping through the pages of a 10-year anniversary book full of photos and news clippings made for her by Katrice (Hewitt) Housker. Besides her own copy, Larson donated a copy of this book to the Kittson County Museum and would be providing another copy to the Mattracks Innovation Center.
Speaking of Hewitt, the first thing she mentioned, when asked what she has enjoyed about leading this festival, was an opportunity that came her way through helping a couple local talents, in Hewitt sisters Ashlee and Katrice. Their mother asked Larson to manage and help promote them and Larson agreed to do this, setting up gigs for them through northwest Minnesota and creating a fan base. She also traveled with the sisters to Nashville to watch them record.
“I learned a lot about the music business by doing that,” Larson said. “And then I met a lot of marketing directors for casinos. I met a lot of other entertainment agencies.”
She has also enjoyed the chance to meet many different artists over the years.
“How many people have that chance in their lifetime to meet all these artists,” Larson asked, then referring to a full-page color ad of event posters that was featured in the Kittson County Enterprise and is featured in this week’s issue of the North Star News. “When I say, ‘Getting to meet all these artists,’ you see how many there are in 18 years.”
Beyond the artists, she has met many other people over her years leading this event, including sponsors and those in marketing.
“I would have never met all those people,” Larson said, “if I hadn’t been out there hitting the bushes, finding sponsors… all over the northwest.”
As for changes over the years, besides the site changes, Larson has also witnessed another change— the event’s popularity.
“We had 15,000 people this year go through the gates… Most of it is due to the marketing and then the artists, the bigger artists,” Larson said. “The bigger the artist, the better the draw. And of course, the bigger artists cost a lot more money. Therefore, you have to find a lot more sponsors.”
In terms of other changes, Larson explained how Brazier continues to add and build more things to make the festival better at the Wagon Wheel Ridge, from the trackless train adventure to various buildings on the site. She explained how Brazier enlarged the saloon this year, having made it into an event center, one available for weddings, biker rallies, and various other events besides Kick’ N Up Kountry.
“It’s just beautiful. The location and the slope to the land… to make the concert bowl, it’s just like what I envisioned,” Larson said. “And that we found that land was a perfect spot.”
Brazier, along with his son Matt, found this land and had sent Larson over to the owner to ask about buying the land.
“I said, ‘I never bought land before,’” Larson said. “He (Brazier) said ‘Well, you get over there and see if he’ll sell it.’”
She contacted this owner and received a quick response from him.
“I said, ‘I want to bring Kick’ N Up Kountry back to Kittson County,’” Larson recalled saying to the man. “ I said, ‘I’m wondering if you’d sell that land over there,’ and he went ‘Yes,’ just hollered it. And he said he was planning to go to Thief River the next day and list it… I get the chills just talking about it because it was like meant to be.”
Going back to her time attending WE Fest— prior to starting Kick’ N Up Kountry— she had called the city clerk in Detroit Lakes and asked what kind of support it provided to the city.
“She (the city clerk) told me, ‘I can’t tell you in dollars and cents,” Larson said, “but I’ll tell you, we never want to let it go.’”
Larson may be letting go of her Kick’ N Up Kountry lead reins, but she is not leaving completely and the show will continue to go on at Wagon Wheel Ridge.
To see the complete story, read the August 19 issue of the North Star News in print or online.