MANKATO -- After a lower-than-usual turnout for last year's event, Solstice organizers have doubled down for this weekend's annual festival of music.
Last year marked the first in Solstice's nine-year history that it wasn't held at Land of Memories Park. After Land of Memories was beset by a string of natural disasters in 2011, city officials relocated its campground and renovated the grounds. Those upgrades, however, changed the layout of the park, making a music festival that typically draws several thousand spectators unfeasible -- at least without spilling onto the nearby soccer fields, a risk that organizers weren't willing to take.
The city did, however, allow Solstice to use Riverfront Park. The change made for much easier preparation -- the stage, sound system and other technical equipment are on-site -- but parking proved a challenge with Riverfront Park's downtown location.
Changes this year include a drop-off zone -- which allows for visitors to drop off their coolers and gear at the Riverfront Park entrance, and then leave to find parking -- as well as a pre-Solstice party tonight at Red Sky Lounge. In addition, organizers feel they have the best musical lineup in recent memory and have designated two new charity benefactors: VINE Faith in Action and Life-Work Planning Center.
"I think parking was a reason for people not going last year," said organizer Val Curtis. "The pick-up/drop-off zone should help."
Tonight's pre-Solstice party begins at 9 p.m. at Red Sky Lounge and includes musical performances from Cornerstone Dub and Ipso Facto.
Curtis said the idea has been fomenting among organizers for several years.
"We finally said, 'You know what? Let's just do it and see what happens,'" she said.
Gates will open at Riverfront Park at noon on both Saturday and Sunday. The musical lineup includes a diverse collection of genres and mix of local and regional bands. The lineup is, of course, anchored by a pair of Solstice regulars: Angry Waters and The Murphy Brothers Band.