Big concerts bring big crowds at fair

Tony Casey • Aug 25, 2013 at 8:29 PM

It might be considered a tall order to compete with the summer race week at the Bristol Motor Speedway, but the Appalachian Fair has done well for itself in bringing in crowds of people.

With the largest Thursday crowd in its history, the 2013 installment of the fair shows it’s stronger than ever.

“We’re estimating that crowds are up 10 percent more than last year,” fair manager Phil Booher said. “We attribute that to the cooperating weather and the entertainment.”

The entertainment is exactly what brought the people in Thursday night. Booher said he had 65,501 in attendance for one of the main attractions of the fair, Florida Georgia Line. This number nearly surpassed a Tim McGraw concert for record attendance at the fair.

“If there wasn’t a chance of rain the first three days, we might have seen an overall record total.” Booher said.

The Florida Georgia Line concert Thursday was followed by a Gretchen Wilson concert Friday night, and a Dailey and Vincent concert Saturday night to close out the fair for the year.

Booher and other directors on the entertainment side of things at the fair try to cater to their crowds with the best shows that will give customers with the most bang for their buck.

Bill Graham, another fair director, is proud to talk about working with an entertainment consultant to land a lot of the best up-and-coming acts to the fair.

He and his consultant, Forrest Tyler Surber, said they look at their budget and try to match the best current shows with the demographics of East Tennessee.

“That’s how we got Tim McGraw back in the mid-1990s, and that’s how we got Florida Georgia Line,” said Graham. They estimate a ticket to the a Florida Georgia Line concert might cost nearly $50, but are proud to say that fairgoers are able to attend in general admission for $8.

Graham and another director, Aaron Hamilton, say they run a smooth operation that always has their talent asking for more.

“When Florida Georgia Line’s bus pulled in, the first thing they said is, ‘we’re partners in this,’ and, ‘let’s give everyone a really good show,’ ” Graham said. “And when they left, they told us that we run a great venue and they’d love to come back.”

Getting the approval of the bands isn’t the only way to guarantee a successful set of concerts each year. They need to get that positive feedback from the crowds, too. And, they do.

Milligan student Breanna Dye, of Piney Flats, said it was the biggest concert she’s ever been to and also shared a thumb’s up for the record-setting Thursday night concert.

“I had a great time. They played all the songs I know,” Dye said. “We were down on the fence, and when we turned around, there were just so many people.”

David Garland, one of the security guards, says that it’s certainly noticeable to have bigger crowds, but the people that come to the concerts are well-behaved and respectful.

“It was a bit crazy here, but no one got out of hand and made us get serious,” Garland said. “You could see people all the way up and over the hill, comparable to the Tim McGraw concert where people we piled up on the roofs of the buildings, too.”

While the 2013 fair and concerts are in the books, fair directors say they will immediately start the process of working on getting the big acts for next summer’s fair.

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