Rock the South brought approximately 30,000 people to Cullman last year, and officials expect even more to show up this weekend for the 2014 edition.
The music festival, which has grown exponentially since its launch just two years ago with the addition of host Sara Evans, has easily become one of the biggest events in the area’s history.
Local officials hope they can use that massive platform to promote the community and eventually bring in some extra revenue to the city and county coffers.
Set for June 20-21, the two-day Cullman festival will be headlined by country and rock acts such as Little Big Town, Charlie Daniels, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Colt Ford and Evans this year.
Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce tourism director Cecelia Smith said the tax dollars the festival attracts will assist both the City of Cullman, as well as Cullman County.
“It will benefit the entire area. It’s not just the price of a ticket, because you’re also talking about money for hotels, food, clothing and other items,” she said. “For example, a soda purchase in Good Hope, or a T-shirt sale within the festival gates, will all help the entire county thanks to the tax structure we have here.”
Smith noted Rock the South also brings with it some intangible benefits, such as the mass marketing campaign that sells the community along with the music festival.
“It helps put our name out there, and all the many wonderful reasons to visit the area,” she said. “We’re definitely getting that exposure all over, and people are getting to know our name, which is bringing more people to Cullman.”
In a recent interview with The Times, Evans said she hopes the festival can grow into an event destination in future years.
“I’d love to see it become something that everyone looks forward to year after year,” she said. “I know there are big plans to keep it growing and making it a festival to remember and something that people talk about in Alabama and beyond for years to come.”
Organizer Shane Quick said the event has even attracted the attention of other chambers and economic development offices across the nation, who plan to visit and observe in hopes of launching similar concerts in their home states.
“They’re coming to really see how we’ve been able to pull this off, to maybe do something for their own city,” he said. “That’s always a good sign you’re doing something right and you’re on the right track. Our goal is to be trendsetters, and ahead of the curve, and I think we’re doing just that.”
Quick also noted advance ticket sales are clipping ahead of last year’s numbers, which means they’ll likely surpass 2013’s two-day total of approximately 30,000 people.
“We’ve really reached a tipping point in sales, and considering it sold out at the gate last year, I think people are making a point to get their tickets early,” he said. “We’ve already had people from 30 states buy advance tickets for Rock the South. That really helps us plan, by being able to see about how big the crowd will be.”
Sales tax showed a small increase countywide last year during Rock the South weekend, and officials say the event also attracts visitors for overnight stays in local hotels and contributes to food sales at nearby restaurants.
Even inside the park, vendors are required to pay sales tax on all sales made, and purchase vendors licenses to work inside the state, county and city limits. Officials hope to have a better grasp of that potential economic benefit in the months following the festival.
Rock the South organizers signed a five-year contract with the city parks department in 2013, which will keep the festival in Cullman for at least the next three years through 2017. The city agreed to provide $150,000 last year, this year and next year to help launch the event to stability. Per the contract, the city will not have to pay for the 2016 and 2017 installments.
The parks department also agreed to provide the event venue, cleaning services, security (i.e. police) and parking for all five years. An exact estimate for the cost of those in-kind services will not be available until factors such as overtime are considered after the event, and officials say those costs can change year-to-year.
* Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 134.