Chesney to headline BamaJam

ENTERPRISE, Ala. -- Maybe size does matter.

When organizers of the three-day BamaJam Music & Arts Festival talk about the event being "bigger" in its third year of existence, they're not just bragging about areas of expansion that include more amenities, more campsites, more port-o-potties, more vendors, more parking spaces and more stages for more acts.

No, BamaJam 2010, set to blast off June 3 and run through June 5, is bigger in stature because of the marquee names set to play at the festival. When you can trot out a lineup that includes Kenny Chesney, Train, the Zac Brown Band, Gregg Allman, Buddy Guy, Dierks Bentley, Miranda Lambert, Robert Earl Keen, Hank Williams Jr., Travis Tritt, Jamey Johnson, Edgar Winter ... well, that's just BIG.

That, BamaJam Executive Producer Tony Conway says, is the whole idea.

"It's my theory that when you do a festival like this, there are going to be people who like various styles, certain genres, of music," Conway said in a phone interview. "We're going to give them all something to see. It's going to be like a tossed salad ... some country, some rock, some blues, some classic rock, some bluegrass.

"About the only thing we don't have is reggae. But when you get a crowd like we'll have, with high school students, college students, baby boomers and an even older group, you're talking about an audience that's been exposed to every kind of music there is."

If anyone knows the ins and outs of the music biz, it's Conway, who was brought in this year by Ronnie Gilley Entertainment to oversee the festival. Conway had 35 years in the industry when Gilley lured him away from Buddy Lee Attractions.

"When Ronnie Gilley called me around Dec. 1 of last year and asked me to get involved with the festival, I knew it was something I wanted to do," said Conway, who has been involved with Willie Nelson's Farm Aid concerts and with artists like Garth Brooks and the Dixie Chicks during his celebrated career. "I'd been here the first two years of the festival with talent, so I knew it was a class event.

"I was thrilled to get this opportunity."

It didn't hurt that BamaJam's big headliner had already signed on to do the show.

"They had signed Kenny Chesney, so that was a heck of a start," Conway said. "It became part of my job to bring in more talent."

It's a job Conway and his staff did well, locking up more than 45 acts to play on the festival's four stages, including the aforementioned stars. The lineup, as much as the reputation of the festival, has officials expecting as many as 125,000 fans to show up over the three days of the event.

"BamaJam is really a dream come true," said Gilley, who decided to throw a big party in a Coffee County, Alabama peanut field a couple of years ago and saw it turn into one of the major concert events of the summer. "We have been able to make everything happen that we envisioned, and the event continues to grow and get better and better.

"Three years ago we transformed a peanut field into an extraordinary venue to see top-named artists. We are committed to ensure our fans receive the best experience possible."

The BamaJam staff has taken pains to see to that. In addition to increasing the size of the campus to more than 600 acres this year, upgrades have also been completed on the festival grounds, on roads to the site, on the festival lighting, on the sound system ... every little detail that will help meet Gilley's expectations.

And then there's the music.

"Our acts get better and better," Trey Wilson, vice president of live entertainment for Ronnie Gilley Entertainment, said. "With Kenny Chesney headlining this year's festival, along with dozens of other popular artists, we guarantee you will be entertained."

Chesney will headline Saturday's closing night, but he won't be alone in drawing large crowds. Also scheduled to perform on getaway day are Allman, Guy, Beth Hart, Gretchen Wilson and Winter.

Hank Jr., Tritt, Train, Johnson and Colt Ford are among Friday's best-known performers, while the Zac Brown Band, Lambert, Keen, Bentley, LoCash Cowboys and Citizen Cope will kick the festival off on a high note Thursday.

"I'm going to see Kenny Chesney," fan Tonya Morgan said of her plans for BamaJam, the excitement obvious in her voice. "I love Zac Brown and Dierks Bentley and Gretchen Wilson, and I want to see Hank Jr. and Gregg Allman. But I'm going to BamaJam to see Kenny Chesney.

"I've been waiting to see him, like, forever. I can't believe I'm really going to see him live."

Of course, it's likely to be Morgan and 100,000 or so of her closest friends fighting to get up close and personal with the country superstar. Conway said advertisements in national publications like Rolling Stone and Country Weekly have turned the little Alabama gathering into a national event.

"We've adjusted our game plan," the BamaJam executive producer said. "We started getting calls from all over the country, so we took out full-page ads in a lot of national publications. With the national advertising, the Internet and word of mouth, things just exploded. Now we're a national access event.

"Currently, our ticket sales are ahead of last year by about 28 percent."

General admission tickets range from $46.83 for Thursday, $56.21 for Friday and $70.26 for Saturday. Three-day general admission tickets are $92.74 for youths and $149.88 for adults. Upgrades are available, and as of Thursday a few camper/RV sites on the festival grounds were still available.

Tickets are available at all Ticketmaster outlets, by calling (877) 4BamaJam (422-6252) or by logging onto the website www.bamajammusicfestival.com.

"BamaJam is an amazing family experience," Conway said. "It's an amazing value, and a great opportunity for fans to see some of their favorite artists. It also is an opportunity for the artists to expose a new audience to their music and their merchandise.

"There's an energy at an event like BamaJam that you don't get anywhere else. The artists are going to use the feedback of the crowd to give them a more exciting show. It's the summer, it's outdoors, it's great music. What more could any music fan ask for?"