On the Luke-out

Putting on an outdoor concert is an exercise in logistics, but James Goss, farm manager for the Atkins group, is up the challenge.  He’s been working closely with Luke Bryan’s team to bring a big city concert experience to a corn field in Central Illinois.  “We are off to a good start,” Goss said.  “They are guiding me down the path so this will be a success.”

Goss has been coordinating with the Bryan team since the beginning.  He travelled with Bryan’s representative to five or six sites in the county looking for the perfect spot to hold the concert.  The advance team was picky, Goss said.  The farm site needed to be accessible, but not too close to a major highway, where traffic might back up, but not too remote, either.   “The idea is ultimately, safety,” Goss said.  “You don’t want people in danger, crossing a major road.”  Access to the concert site will be strictly controlled by the Champaign County Sheriff’s Office and roads will be blocked off and restricted the day of the concert, he said.

It wasn’t just the Atkins family that had to agree to the event venue.  The farmer who works the field involved had to want to cooperate, as well.  “The tenant agreed, but he’s a little nervous,” Goss said.  “It’s his farm and this is a big deal.”   

Not everyone in the county was willing to go to those lengths to host a concert, but the Atkins family and their lessor took up the challenge.  “We weren’t the first to be asked, but the Atkins Farm wants to be a good neighbor,” he said.  “I didn’t say no.  My attitude is, ‘how are we going to get it done.’”

It is up to Goss to make it happen, and he will have his hands full working with the Bryan team until the day after the concert, when he signs off on the clean-up efforts.  The Bryan staff will be responsible for cleaning up afterwards.  Goss doesn’t expect much permanent harm will be done to the ground.  “I don’t think the cars will compact the soil too much, and we will till in the grass,” he said.

Goss is excited that the concert is being held in Central Illinois.  “This is a great event for Champaign County,” Goss said.  The Bryan team brings everything with them—the vendors, the parking lot attendants and of course the star himself and his band.  Each detail is planned out meticulously long before Bryan takes the stage.  “This is the 10th farm concert his team has put on,” Goss explained.  “They have a good idea of the protocols and what’s needed to make it happen.  I want to make it good enough on my part so they will want to come back.” 

‘A traveling city’

The Bryan team carries everything needed on their tour buses to put on an outdoor festival.  The buses  will roll into Pesotum around 9am, after leaving Boone, Iowa at 3 a.m. after Bryan’s concert there ends.  One hundred people will arrive to work the show, including 30 people just for parking duty.  “They have a map and plan already worked up,” Goss said.  The crew will begin set up in the morning, do a sound check around 2 p.m., and be ready to play in the evening, he explained. “I am fascinated by the idea that they are erecting a whole city on the site, in such a short time,” he said.  “The event team will drive a hard six hours from rural Iowa to arrive here in the morning and get this whole thing set up.”

One persistent question Goss has been getting is if the team will hire local vendors.   “The vendors travel with the team,” Goss said. “The same vendors work every Bryan farm tour concert.  They will offer food, sweet tea, and beer.   Local companies will be contracted for garbage disposal and some other logistical tasks.”

The maximum number of tickets sold will be 20,000.  “They are skeptical we will sell out,” Goss said, “I consider it a challenge to sell out the tickets.  I think we will.  Bryan is not going to Indiana this year, or Missouri, and I think people will come from those areas.  We are very central.” He and his team get no special treatment, however.  “We don’t have a VIP tent, or free tickets, or anything like that,” Goss explained.  “I haven’t even met Luke Bryan, just his advance team.  People have been asking me, but there are no free tickets available,” he said.

Two previous concerts have been held in central Illinois, one in Effingham, the other in Springfield.  The Springfield concert was right after the concert shooting in Las Vegas, “and that was the first time they started using wands on the concert-goers,” Goss said.

Currently Goss is working with the team to finalize the permitting that goes along with having an outdoor festival.  There are zoning permissions and other permits that he is coordinating, although the advance team does much of that work, he said.

It began with a field

Once the site was secured, the event journey began.  The first task for Goss was plant 18 acres of grass mix, in secret, in the middle of a field of corn.  He personally put the grass in the ground earlier this year.  “I had to think about what would be a good ground cover, that would stay green until the end of September,” he said.  “I thought about all oats, but they turn brown.  I settled on a mixture of oats, perennial rye and annual rye.  The day I picked to plant it was calm and clear…but by the time I got going, the wind picked up and there was grass seed flying everywhere.”  He was a bit rueful about the fact that resulted in a couple of bare spots, but admitted, “that’s the perfectionist in me.”   He was grateful the road was not heavily travelled, he said, so no one might question just what he was doing plowing and planting 20 acres of that field into something different.  Sworn to secrecy, he couldn’t let on what he was doing.

He will mow the area a couple of more times before the concert, then the week of the concert, they will harvest the corn.  “It might come out a little early, but I think we are in good shape,” he said. “The heat has accelerated the growing pace of the corn.” Parking will be in the corn stubble, he explained, and they aren’t going to till it beforehand.   They expect around 7,000 vehicles to park in the field.  As far as rain, or other weather events, Goss is very much a farmer.  “We will be at the mercy of Moother Nature,” he said.

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