Big State, Big Ideas
Just when those blisters from the Austin City Limits festival have finally gone away, here’s another nearby multi-day, multi-stage musical happening. Saturday and Sunday’s Big State Festival at College Station’s Texas World Speedway (plenty of tickets available ) is aimed squarely at the big-hat, big-hair honky-tonk crowd. Performers include Tim McGraw, Willie Nelson, Lyle Lovett, Miranda Lambert, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Trace Adkins, the Wreckers, Billy Joe Shaver, Los Lonely Boys, Drive-By Truckers and Kevin Fowler, but as Charlie Jones of Austin event overlords/Big State producers C3 Presents told the Press earlier this week, it takes a lot more than music to ensure an “added-value customer experience.” – Chris Gray
Houston Press: Are you in College Station right now?
Charlie Jones: Yeah, we just started loading in on Sunday.
HP: Everything going smoothly so far?
CJ: So far. Weather’s projected to be good, site looks okay…
HP: How much work did you have to do to convert this racetrack into a festival venue?
CJ: It hadn’t been used for a public mass gathering in about 30 years. We’ve been doing a lot, from ground repair to bringing in portable buildings. It’s basically a blank canvas and we’re bringing everything in.
HP: Is the track in pretty good repair?
CJ: The track is not in condition to do a NASCAR race, but it is in a good enough condition to do the short-style races that we’re doing. Each race we’re doing is only 20 miles.
HP: How exactly are those going to work?
CJ: When you walk into ACL Festival, you get a free handout that has a grid with all the bands and all the stages. It’s very similar to that, except for 30 minutes two times each day, all the stages shut down at the exact same time. The cars will be on Pit Row, and an announcer will come on, introduce the drivers and do a ‘Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,’ they’ll start ‘em up and do a couple of pace-car laps and then fire ‘em up for a 20-mile race that will last 12-13 minutes, something like that. Then there’ll be a cooldown lap, then they’ll wheel the winner into the victory circle. The whole process should take about 30 minutes, and then the music starts right back up. It’s an added-value customer experience. Most of the people that are going to be at this event have never attended a NASCAR race, and to watch and listen and feel the spectacle of those cars is awesome.
HP: Where do you get the drivers from?
CJ: The Richard Petty Driving Experience is an organization that does stock-car training, exhibitions. Basically, they’ve sanctioned this race and brought down all the cars and most of the drivers. We have gone out to a few non-NASCAR drivers that are trying to work their way up. There are specific female drivers. We hired an ex-Indy Car racer by the name of Lynn St. James, who’s the only woman to ever have a Top 10 finish at the Indy 500. She, basically, is consulting, picked some of the drivers and is kind of running the whole thing for us. And she’s going to be one of the drivers. They’re real race-car drivers.
HP: What about this barbecue cookoff?
CJ: The concept behind it is very similar to the race. It’s just added value for people at the festival. We have a festival philosophy of – I guess the model that we use is we put as many people together as we possibly can, and we hold ‘em for two or three days at a time. In order to do that and give them a good experience, there needs to be more for them to do than just watch music. So the services we provide have to be top-notch and plenty of, the food has to be good and plenty of, there has to be educational components, children’s components, and then we added stuff like the stock-car race and barbecue cookoff, which is not extra. There’s not an extra fee to walk out into it. It’ll be set up similar to a food and wine-type event. There’ll be rows of all the contestants, but at one end of the barbecue cookoff area there’ll be a large tent called the Ring of Fire. In that tent, they’re going to be doing cooking exhibitions, classes, awards, speeches, just a lot of stuff about food and barbecue in particular. There’s an Iron Chef-type showdown between a couple of chefs. All that’s going on during the music.
HP: Were there any major differences organizing this as opposed to Lollapalooza or ACL?
CJ: It’s a different type of music and a different type of demographic.
HP: I mean logistically.
CJ: We have the same office that’s grown over the past six years that does all our festivals, so they’re pretty seasoned, and the logistical part is something we’re real good at. That was not the hard part. The hard part on something like this is educating the country music fan who is not used to these types of events. In the popular rock and roll world, they’re used to them. The country-music fan is used to free events, state fair-type events, smaller, lower-budget events, so they’re going to be going through an educational process this year.
HP: What did you do to educate them?
CJ: That’s going to be during the week of the show. We’ve done everything we can to educate them on the website. Our philosophy is to steer every single person, whether you bought a ticket or you need to find out about the show, to the website, where you can get all information. I think the country-music fan is not used to doing that, so it’s going to take probably two to three years to finish this education process.
HP: What kind of crowd are y’all expecting this year?
CJ: Our traditional event models range from 18 to 34. I would imagine this one’s going to be just a little bit on the younger side, just because the student populace here.
HP: I meant numbers, but that’s interesting too.
CJ: We’ve been projecting 20,000 to 30,000 per day, but ask me that on Monday and I’ll tell you.
HP: Why did you guys choose College Station?
CJ: We have been watching country music for quite some time, and finally decided in the past 24 months it was time to create an experience-based multi-stage country-music show. We started doing our research around the country as to where we thought the best place to do one was. Our research came back that Texas was the best place, and if you look at most of the populations are in Texas, they are in a triangle that goes from Dallas to Houston to Austin and everything in between. College Station and Texas World Speedway is right in the middle of that triangle.
HP: I know everyone in Houston’s happy it didn’t go up to Dallas.
CJ: No. The state fair’s going on at the same time. They already have an event similar to this. Houston already has the Livestock Show and Rodeo, so we wanted to stay away from Houston and Dallas and still be close enough it was driveable.
HP: Are you at all concerned about going up against the state fair?
CJ: No, that’s a completely different type of event.
HP: Was it difficult for y’all this year to be working on ACL and Big State pretty much simultaneously?
CJ: It is a growing process with growing pains attached to it. We are a growing company, and we will continue to grow. Last year we had two large festivals, this year we have three, next year we’ll have four.
HP: What’s the new one?
CJ: I guess you’ll just have to wait and see [laughs]. We’ll announce it later this year.
HP: Can you tell me anything? Will it be in Texas?
CJ: We’ll announce it later this year, is all I can tell you.
HP: Does C3 do much booking and promoting in Houston?
CJ: Not much in Houston. We’re mostly Austin, Dallas and markets scattered throughout the country.
HP: Has there ever been the thought to branch out into the Houston market?
CJ: I think we’ve probably partnered for shows, but C3 does about 1,000 concerts around the country a year.
HP: From a promoter’s standpoint, can you give me a couple reasons Houston isn’t a more attractive concert market?
CJ: Like I said, this is our first attempt at it, and we’re learning just like they’re learning, and I’ll be able to answer those questions better post-event.
HP: No, I meant just for everyday shows. Why isn’t Houston on the same level as, say, Dallas?
CJ: For what?
HP: As a concert market.
CJ: I would think they probably are pretty close.
HP: I’m just curious why you guys do shows in Dallas and not here.
CJ: It just has to do with the available venues.
Click here for reviews of the latest releases from several of the performing artists.
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