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December 29, 2012

THE TIMES’ YEAR IN REVIEW (NO. 3): ‘Rock the South’ opens door to greater opportunities

Editor’s note: The first-ever “Rock the South” concert in Cullman drew 15,000-20,000 to the community in April 2012. The event proved that Cullman could become host to more major concerts, which could be just around the corner.

The City of Cullman waded into the music business in 2012 with its first-ever “Rock the South” venue at Heritage Park.

Organizers counted the event as a huge success as somewhere between 15,000 and 20,000 attended the concert, which featured Dierks Bentley and Kellie Pickler. The fact that the concert drew a crowd equal to the size of the city’s population became the foundation for forward thinking among local officials.

The city broke even on the cost of the concert, but the profit may well have been in the money spent by visitors who attended the show. City officials believe an annual event can be profitable and a giant boost for area businesses.

Before the year was over, country music superstar Sara Evans and her husband, Jay Barker, both Birmingham residents, talked to local officials and business leaders about hosting an annual music showcase in Cullman. Evans even performed at a reception local officials hosted and had plenty of kind words to say about the Cullman area.

While Rock the South was a hit, YouthQuake, the annual concert of Christian music performers, continued to draw large crowds under the promotion of Shane Quick, a local resident who works with artists around the world and involved in the move to make Evans’ showcase a reality.

What local officials discovered with Rock the South and YouthQuake is that Cullman County is a centrally located venue between the metropolitan areas of Huntsville and Birmingham. And it’s an easy commute for anyone coming from Nashville or anywhere along the Interstate 65 corridor.

Rock the South was also one of those unforeseen events that rose up from the destruction of the April 27, 2011, tornado outbreak. The concert was planned as a celebration of the community’s recovery and determination to move forward.

Cullman Mayor Max Townson and city parks director John Hunt both noted that the challenges of hosting such a large event were met capably by local officials concerned with traffic control and safety. Visitors moved into and out of the area with few problems throughout the evening. The planning by city officials and the efforts of local law enforcement officers were duly noted by organizers as a plus in making the concert successful.

Local officials expected to know in the early months of 2013 if Sara Evans will choose Cullman as the site of the annual music showcase. Both Evans and Barker publicly said they were impressed with what Cullman had to offer for their vision.

 Looking long-term, interim Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce director Leah Bolin said the weekend festival was Cullman’s coming out party as a viable, major event venue — and she expects even bigger things in the future.

“For people outside our area, this was their first look at what Cullman can provide as far as entertainment value,” she said. “That’s why the city did this, to have people come and get acquainted to Cullman. This was our way to get our feet wet across all of Alabama.”

David Palmer may be contacted at dpalmer@cullmantimes.com or 256-734-2131, ext. 213.

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