By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
Organizers were expecting a big crowd for the second installment of the Rock the South music festival, and country fans seemed happy to oblige. People came to Cullman in droves for the event, packing hotels and eventually selling-out the final night of the festival to see headliners Hank Williams, Jr. and Gregg Allman.
Across both days, organizers recorded more than 35,000 ticket sales — with approximately 20,000 people on-site Saturday night.
“We reached the point where we felt like that was the limit we could keep everyone comfortable and the event managed in a good way, and that’s great,” organizer Shane Quick said. “It was a sell out.”
By adding a second day, the festival managed to more than double attendance from last year’s 15,000-person event. Add in the fact that general admission ticket prices increased from $10 last year to $30 for one-day and $49 for a weekend pass this year — and attendance still went up — and Quick said the event has proven it has the staying power to compete with larger, more-established festivals across the nation.
“We’ve grown by leaps and bounds, and we’re way ahead of schedule after just two years,” he said. “It definitely blew away our expectations. That kind of growth in one year is very exciting and encouraging. It lets us know we’re really onto something big, and we need to be thinking even bigger, because this is about to go to a whole ‘nother level.”
Organizers have signed a five-year contract with the city to keep the festival in Cullman, and though it might soon outgrow Heritage Park, Quick said he believes the unique location of Cullman right between Birmingham and Huntsville will be a major factor in the event’s growth.
“This is definitely a springboard, and I think in the long-term plan Rock The South could be one of the biggest country music festivals in the entire country,” he said. “We’ve said this before, but the location couldn’t be more central. It couldn’t be more accessible to such a massive fan base of country music fans. We are right in the heartland of country music, and I think the possibilities are endless. We’re so excited about the success we just had, but we’re not happy with where it is now.”
The contract between the city parks and event organizers allow for the venue to move within the city, though officials say it’s too early to speculate exactly where the event could move if it eventually does outgrow the downtown park. But, the city recently purchased and annexed a large piece of property on County Road 222 that could potentially be used for events in the future.
Though the City of Cullman hosted the concert in 2012, this was the first year with Quick and musical host Sara Evans at the helm. Though final profit numbers aren’t available, Quick said the event seems to have turned enough of a profit to allow organizers to reinvest for next year’s installment.
“We definitely got to a place where we can reinvest in the event, and we had such a great crowd,” he said. “So, we’re able to take that money and put it toward getting even bigger names, more promotions, more amenities, more concessions, more gates, more video screens and all those things it takes to make a festival amazing.”
In the months leading up to this weekend, Quick said he and other organizers visited festivals all over the nation to get ideas on how to set up everything from concession stands to the VIP areas to make for a smooth operation.
“We analyzed how they ran their festivals, and we feel like we picked the good things from everywhere we went and implemented that,” he said. “We wanted VIPs and Platinum to have the best view and a chair provided, and security, and we want to continue to improve that. We want to grow our sponsor sections and add more amenities for them to entertain their guests. We’re excited about doing as much as we can to make this a fun experience for everyone.”
With such a massive festival located in the heart of downtown, Cullman Police, Fire and Rescue, the Cullman County Sheriff’s Office, Alabama State Troopers, private security and numerous other agencies were on hand to help with logistics.
Police recorded approximately 33 total arrests from the event, with 26 of those coming on Saturday with headliners Hank Williams, Jr. and Gregg Allman on the schedule. The vast majority of charges were either public intoxication, disorderly conduct or resisting arrest.
Cullman Police Chief Kenny Culpepper said the festival was a learning experience for his officers, most of whom have never worked an event of this size before.
“We’re learning and just building off that frame of reference,” he said. “You have the same venue both nights, but completely different situations across it. We’re just learning and figuring out how it all works.”
Quick said the cooperation was fantastic between agencies, which was one factor that contributed to the event’s success.
“We couldn’t have asked for a better team,” he said.
Cullman Mayor Max Townson said he couldn’t have been more pleased with the festival, and he’s proud Rock the South has decided to make Cullman its home.
“I think everyone I talked to was truly amazed,” he said. “Of course, when you have that many people together you’ll have a little bit of conflict, but it went even better than I anticipated. I talked to many people who are really looking forward to this becoming an annual event, because they had such a great time.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.