Lakes Jam features record-breaking attendance, packs in 4 successful days at BIR for outdoor music fest

Lakes Jam 2021 packs in four successful days, bringing close to 35,000 people to Brainerd International Raceway.

Carly Pearce performs Saturday, June 26, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Face masks and social distancing were out of sight as smiles, laughter and social closeness were part of Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway, north of Brainerd.

The number of people — record-breaking attendance, in fact — throughout the four-day outdoor music fest, Wednesday through Saturday, June 23-26 — made it evident people were ready to go out and gather after staying home during the pandemic that hit the United States in March 2020, resulting in the cancellation of music festivals, concerts and large public events for more than a year.

Organizers unofficially estimated Lakes Jam had close to 35,000 people over the four-day event — their largest attendance since Lakes Jam was founded in 2012. Several Lakes Jammers told the Brainerd Dispatch this was their first big event since the pandemic hit — and this was also the case for some of the artists. County artist Carly Pearce of “29” and “Next Door” told fans a few times Saturday on the Bud Light main stage that this was her first time performing for 471 days and she couldn’t be happier.


Outside of the pandemic days, add the fact that jammers couldn’t have asked for better weather. Traditionally organizers expect more people to come out to buy tickets on the day of the event as they want to see what the weather will be like. During the event, temperatures stayed around the mid-70s to -80s and, as has been the pattern this season, conditions were mainly dry. About a quarter inch of rain fell Saturday and another one-half inch fell early Sunday morning, as reported at the Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport, according to the National Weather Service in Duluth.

The record-breaking attendance began right off the bat when Lakes Jam kicked off Wednesday night — opening with two tribute bands to the public. The concert bowl was jampacked with about 2,000 to 3,000 people compared to 500 people in the past, General Manager Ken Lacy said. Wednesday night has traditionally been for campers as their pre-party night to kick off Lakes Jam.

Organizers decided since the main big stage was already set up, they might as well take advantage of it and make it a bigger party Wednesday and so they opened it up to the public. Lacy said the Wednesday night kickoff event set the tone for the rest of the weekend as the amount of people continued to “get bigger and bigger” throughout the next three days with national artists — country and rock — performing on the Bud Light main stage.

Lacy said the pre-event sales were strong and the sales stayed strong at the gate. Asked if the pandemic had a role in ticket sales, Lacy said, “Absolutely, people have not been able to do much for a year and a half, it certainly played into that ... We hope we can at least get this back next year and maybe a little bit more, but to see this much growth over 2019, I don't expect to have that kind of growth again next year, but I would definitely welcome it.”

Lacy said over the four days, things went pretty smoothly. He said they’ve had the normal calls for medical assistance with the exception of one scare Friday night where an air care helicopter flew in for a patient.

Overall, it appeared the event was a welcome return for fans and organizers.


“It's been so fun seeing the smiles on everybody's faces,” Lacy said. “People haven't really been able to let loose like this in large groups and everybody is absolutely having a blast with huge smiles on their faces. That's why we do this and it really makes it worthwhile.”

Lacy said it’s been fun seeing the artists as well as they haven’t been able to perform. And in at least one case, BIR provided an opportunity for one of the artists. Lacy said country artist Matt Stell wanted to try the driving technique of drifting.

“Right away when Matt saw the drifting going on he was like, ‘Hey I need to do that,’” Lacy said. “So we hooked him up with one of the drift cars and he went and blew a couple of rear tires, spinning out and drifting and he came back with the biggest smile on his face and even just mentioned it up on stage, how happy he was he's never got to do that before so we get to offer something new to even the artists, which is awesome.”

The Brothers Osborne headline Saturday, June 26, 2021, on the last night of Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Lacy said it takes a lot to plan a big event for Lakes Jam and they are fortunate to have an ownership group of seven entities who all work together to make the event a success.

“We all have connections to help, and I can't imagine the expense for this event would be if a single person owned it and ran it because then you have to hire out all of that,” Lacy said. “We're very lucky, and whenever there's any crisis, which there's always 30 different crises throughout the weekend, they're all hands on deck because they're invested so they're going to be there to help right away. We love all the support we get from the community with the volunteers and with all of our partners. I think we have 60 business partners and they help us in different ways and none of this would happen without all of this combined.”

Eryk Haapajoki, who is the director of partnerships for Lakes Jam, said it has been great seeing everyone smiling and having fun since no one has been able to do this for the past year.


“Everybody is out here just loving their life and having fun together,” Haapajoki said. “Lakes Jam is country and rock and they are two different things, but we come together and we make it work here. You look at all the people in the crowds that we've seen in the last four days, I mean this is awesome.”

What fans had to say

Several people attended just one day Thursday for the rock concerts, as they didn't care to listen to the country music the other two days. This was the case for Bob and Megan Ethan of St. Cloud. This was their second time at Lakes Jam since it was founded in 2012. They attended the first time to see Bret Michaels in 2017 and this year they were excited to see Slaughter.

“They were really good,” Bob Ethan said. “They haven’t missed a beat.”

The couple goes to many music concerts a year and this one was their first one since the pandemic.

Lakes Jam rockers
Bob and Megan Ethan of St. Cloud take a break Thursday, June 24, 2021, after listening to Slaughter at Lakes Jam on rock night at Brainerd International Raceway. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch


The last concert they went to was L.A. Guns in November of 2019, the couple said. They also had to cancel several concerts in 2020. They had plans to go to the Rolling Stones and Sebastian Bach in San Diego; Motley Crue at the U.S. Bank stadium in Minneapolis and Guns and Roses.

“It was really hard on her,” Bob Ethan said of his wife.

“I turned 40 when we were supposed to go to San Diego,” Megan Ethan said. “But the concerts were totally canceled, we got our money back ... I was going to go to concerts and a trip, but I got waffles instead.”

Looking ahead this summer, the Ethans are excited as they have “quite a few” more concerts planned, including their next one July 1-3 for Mid Summer Music Fest in Menahga.

Slaughter rocks out at Lakes Jam Thursday, June 24, 2021, at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Cole Poepping of St. Cloud — who was wearing a Lita Ford T-shirt — also was at Lakes Jam just for rock night. Poepping said he was excited to see the entire rock line-up including Kip Winger, Slaughter, Lita Ford and RATT.

Poepping said this also was his first public event in person. It was his first time at Lakes Jam. He said he was curious to see what the event was all about and it wasn’t too far of a drive from St. Cloud.


Lita Ford performs Thursday, June 24, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Robert and Beth Etter of Park Rapids had plans to stay for the entire weekend. It was Robert’s fourth time at Lakes Jam and Beth’s first time. The couple just got married this past fall.

Robert Etter said he likes Lakes Jam because it’s small enough so he can get up and see the bands. He said he used to go to a lot of outdoor music festivals, but now he only goes to Lakes Jam.

“It’s been really great,” Beth Etter said of Lakes Jam. “I’m a big Moondance Jammer and it’s fun to see something a little bit smaller and more intimate.”

The couple did not go to Moondance this year and Lakes Jam was their first event since the pandemic.

“It’s so great to see people out and smiling,” Beth Etter said.


Fireworks Saturday, June 26, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Country night Friday and Saturday the crowds continued to be strong.

Autumn Rice and her boyfriend Murray Armstrong, who are 2019 Pine River High School graduates, were at Lakes Jam for the first time Friday-Saturday to see the country artists. They said they decided to go fishing Thursday instead of going to rock night and Rice said she dropped her phone in the lake — so was hoping Friday-Saturday would be better days.

“I’m here for the experience and to have some fun,” Rice said of Lakes Jam. “It feels good to be out again.”

Lakes Jam Family
Lakes Jam was a family affair for Brent and Traci Potvin (right) of Brainerd. They brought their two sons — Cade, 11, and Jace, 10 — and Traci’s parents Todd and Patty Evans of Laverne out to Lakes Jam Friday, June 25, 2021, for country nigh at Brainerd International Raceway. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

Lakes Jam was a family affair for Brent and Traci Potvin of Brainerd. They brought their two sons — Cade, 11, and Jace, 10 — and Traci’s parents, Todd and Patty Evans of Laverne.

“We’re here to celebrate Jace’ 10th birthday,” Traci Potvin said. “He turned 10 in May and he’s a big fan of old country. We listen to a lot of Prime Country, so when we heard Tracy Lawrence was coming, we thought it would be a good birthday idea for him. He is excited to see Tracy Lawrence and Big & Rich too.”

Potvin said they have gone to a few different places in public, but this is their first big outing with a bigger crowd since the pandemic.

The couple said they went to Lakes Jam about five years ago for one night.

Lakes Jam sister-in-laws
Sister-in-laws Samantha Kidd (left) of Elk River and Rita Kidd from Austin, Texas, pose Friday, June 25, 2021, at Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Jennifer Kraus / Brainerd Dispatch

Sister-in-laws Samantha Kidd of Elk River and Rita Kidd from Austin, Texas, both have been to Lakes Jam in the past with their entire family — but this year decided to come on their own as other family members were busy. Samantha Kidd said they stay at their grandparents’ who live off Pine Beach Road in rural Brainerd and drive to BIR each day.

“I came out to Brainerd just for this,” Rita Kidd said. “This has become a family thing and we had a great time two years ago — so why not come back and do it again. You can't beat the weather this time of year and it's just beautiful here.”

The two ladies said they were excited to see John Pardi, but said Big & Rich will be great too.

“I haven’t seen Big & Rich since Sturgis, so I’m super excited to see them,” Rita Kidd said. “And of course, I’m excited to see Brothers Osborne. I’ve seen them a couple of times in Texas, but I’m sure they sound a little bit different here.”

The crowd Saturday, June 26, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Samantha Kidd said like everyone they had to take a year off last year as the outdoor music festivals were canceled because of the pandemic. She said since then she has gone to a couple of smaller events at bar establishments to listen to live music — but as the other jammers said, this is their first big crowd event.

“This is the first big one, and you know what, I'm not really all that worried about it,” Rita Kidd said. “We're gonna have a good time and we survived last year and hopefully we’ll survive this year. (Seeing all these people) it's nice to see. It feels like life is slowly coming back to normal. It feels normal.”

Kaitlyn Guenther of Duluth planned her bachelorette party around Lakes Jam. She said she wanted to go to Lakes Jam to see country star John Pardi, but unfortunately he had to cancel as he was on voice rest.

No matter how disappointing that was to the bride and her nine-person bachelorette party — country star Tracy Lawrence by far made up for the disappointment. The bachelorette party — all in jean shorts, hats and black tank tops with the bride to be in a white tank top — were in the concert bowl — having a great time when Lawrence asked them to come up to the stage. The country star had all 10 ladies on the stage with him where he asked a few questions and then sang a song “Texas Tornado” as the ladies sang along. Then he took a photo with the group with the audience in the background.

“I can’t believe it, it was unbelievable,” Guenther said. “It was very fun and a cool experience.”

Tracy Lawrence performs Friday, June 25, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Artists experiences

Carolyn Huff of Huff Entertainment Solutions and her team works directly with all the artists backstage. Huff said they offered the artists a bit of Minnesota culture and provided them fish houses to stay in besides the typical recreational vehicles. Country stars Big & Rich mentioned it to the crowd Friday night saying how surprised they were in how nice the fish houses are.

“That’s been a pretty unique experience,” Huff said of setting up the artists in fishhouses. “When I was talking to the managers (setting everything up beforehand) I was like this is gonna sound weird and they're like “aren’t we going to be in an RV?” and I said well we have these fishhouses and they're like, ‘OK, like where is this going?’ And I'm like no, they're really nice and they're probably nicer than most people's campers.

“They (all the artists) asked my crew a lot of questions about the holes and how it all worked and they loved it.”

Bull riding Saturday, June 26, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

Huff said the artists also spent time in the community, some went to the fitness centers in the area to work out, some drove around checking out the lakes area communities, some went golfing and miniature golfing.

“They’re enjoying the area and they love the weather,” Huff added.

Huff said things also have changed in terms of food and health. Traditionally the “odd thing” was the artists were vegetarians — so they would request a lot of vegetables. Now, she said, there are a lot of vegans.

The crowd Saturday, June 26, 2021, during Lakes Jam at Brainerd International Raceway. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch

“So that has been interesting to learn what they can and can’t eat,” Huff said. “(Saturday) was the only day I didn’t have a vegan, just vegetarians, which is normal now. In 2019, we had artists who were paleo, vegans and vegetarians. A lot of these artists have been healthy and one of them last night was talking about how he started going to the gym everyday and was working out and had a new routine during COVID.

“You don’t see a lot of the chips and junk food and candy anymore, it’s like chicken, vegetables and fruit ... It’s not even a lot of coffee anymore, it’s more like water products and Gatorade and thinks like that versus the sodas they used to drink.”

JENNIFER KRAUS may be reached at or 218-855-5851. Follow me at on Twitter.

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