By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
CULLMAN — County music star Sara Evans and her husband Jay Barker have been scouring north Alabama for the perfect place to host their own country music festival. According to Barker, who spoke glowingly of Cullman at a private concert Tuesday night, they think they’ve found it.
Starting next year, the city looks to be the home of Evans’ new music festival.
“Cullman is the perfect venue and we think we can really make this thing work,” Barker said. “You have Huntsville and Nashville nearby and we think we can make a great north Alabama event, and be able to help raise money for charities ... This is a great venue, the perfect city, and we believe the people have the kind of hearts to really get behind this and make it work.”
The potential two-day weekend event, which is set to take place each June, would likely be hosted at Heritage Park in Cullman — which has a maximum capacity of up-to 30,000.
“We pray that [space] is an issue,” Barker joked. “We’ve talked about wanting to grow this over time and we would never want to pull out of Cullman, because they have been so good to help us get started. If we needed more room I’m sure the city would work with us, and if we couldn’t figure something out, this would be the best 30,000-person festival in the South.”
The event would mostly feature country music acts, though Barker noted it could also serve as a showcase for Alabama bands in similiar genres.
“You could also look at local acts that have done well, like Taylor Hicks with American Idol,” he noted. “There are so many great acts from Alabama. This could really be a cool event.”
Evans said Cullman’s location — just two hours south of Nashville — makes it the perfect destination to draw in talented country musicians as they make the rounds on national and regional tours.
“We haven’t approached any specific artists yet, but there would definitely be huge interest because it’s an easy place to play,” she explained.
Evans performed a private concert Tuesday night at Windham Farm in Cullman to a crowd of nearly 200, which served as a coming-out party of sorts for the festival concept. City officials have been in talks with Evans for months, and the acoustic concert was the culmination of those efforts to introduce the idea to the community.
“This is really about getting everyone rallied around it,” Evans said. “I think this is an amazing community and we’ve already seen it grow so much.”
Local resident Shane Quick, vice-president of the concert division of Premier Productions, is also working with Evans and the city to coordinate the event. Quick already created the successful Cullman-based Christian music festival Youthquake and said a country music festival in Cullman is an idea that has always been close to his heart.
“I never could understand why north Alabama doesn’t have a country music event of its own,” Quick said. “We’re dreaming really, really big. We want people to come from all over and to talk about this all over the country.”
Though Barker and Evans currently live south of Cullman in Mountain Brook, Barker said they have always thought fondly of the area thanks to several friends they’ve made in the community.
“Sara and I are really excited about being a part of Cullman,” Barker said. “Our close friend and neighbor Shane McMinn, who works at R.E. Garrison Trucking, is so proud of Cullman and has probably been one of the biggest advocates. Plus I’ve really enjoyed working with Shane Quick.”
For local officials, the partnership represents a potential first-step toward turning Cullman into a premier location for regional events.
“It’s a tremendous turning point for Cullman to become a tourist destination, absolutely,” city council member Johnny Cook said. “With Sara Evans coming in, and her contacts in Nashville, we think this could be a fantastic event for years to come.”
Council member Andy “Coach” Page agreed, noting recent successes like the Rock the South concert earlier this year have all been leading to an announcement like this.
“This could be one of the best things to happen to Cullman,” he said. “Not to diminish anything we’ve done in the past, but something like this could put us on the next level.”
Cullman Mayor Max Townson said the city has been looking for the right artist to partner with for an event of this magnitude since Rock the South attracted nearly 15,000, and he believes Evans is the perfect face to represent the area.
“Cullman is the crossroads to the South, right on I-65,” he said. “We wanted to show them the type of character the people of Cullman have, and Sara and Jay are the type of people we want in Cullman doing concerts.”
Cullman City Parks Department Director John Hunt, who will play an active role in logistics for the event, said Cullman definitely has the capacity to support an event of this scope.
“After the success of Rock the South and accommodating 14,000 people, there's no doubt that we could handle 30,000,” Hunt said. “A lot of footwork needs to be done, but Heritage Park and Cullman is the perfect location for this event. It comes down to the city and community sponsorships and a commitment from Sara and Jay.”
Hunt said the city's work with Rock the South last spring proved how prepared and efficient the city is for handling a large-scale festival.
“We have the facilities in place now to do this, and down the road there could be something else at the Burrow property,” Hunt said. “But that's a way off. We're prepared now.”
‰ David Palmer contributed to this report.
‰ Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.