Wilder’s World owner Trena Etheredge, left, stands with her father, Skip Nichols, president of the SWGA Exchange Club, and her son, Wilder, 7, at Wilder’s World on N. Slappey Boulevard. The father-daugher duo plans to make October’s Georgia Throwdown music festival as family-friendly as possible, providing fun and entertainment for kids as well as adults.
ALBANY, Ga. -- In the infant stages of the Southwest Georgia Music and Arts Festival's Georgia Throwdown, back when it was no more than a wild idea in the back of Sam Shugart's mind, Shugart and his core team of planners knew they needed the three-day festival to be kid-friendly if they wanted to attract parents.
And so, as quickly as the idea emerged, Shugart turned to successful businesswoman and longtime schoolmate Trena Etheredge to flesh out the idea.
"Anything that has to do with kids' activities will go through Trena," Shugart told a group of invited guests at a luncheon planned to discuss the festival. "I need someone who I can trust to take care of that part of things so that I don't have to worry about it, and there's no one I'd trust more than Trena."
With the support and help of her father, Exchange Club of Southwest Georgia President Skip Nichols, Etheredge converted an old abandoned storefront at 2015 N. Slappey Blvd. into the wildly popular Wilder's World 4 Kids 3 1/2 years ago, and it has become bouncy-house heaven for parents eager to find a place where their kids can burn off excess energy.
Etheredge centered her plan for the festival on a simple concept: Take Wilder's World outdoors.
"We'd set up our inflatables at WingFest, and that was a huge success," Etheredge said. "(Event organizer) Rick Snyder knew we had the bouncers, and he asked if we thought it would keep the kids entertained at that event, and I said we'd give it a try.
"Our folks were busy from start to finish."
Etheredge said she's still finalizing plans for kids' activities during the Oct. 12-14 Throwdown, but she said all kid-friendly activities and vendors will be located around the Fairgrounds' demolition derby track.
"What we're most likely going to do is allow parents to buy either a daily or a weekend pass that will allow the kids to come in and out of our area as often as they please," she said. "The bouncers will be inside the fence at the demolition derby track, and all other kid venders will be outside the fence but in the same area.
"Right now we have 14-16 inflatables up to 30 feet tall, facepainting, a balloon animal shaper, a goldfish-bowl toss, horseback rides and kid refreshments like popcorn, candy, hot dogs, slushies and other tummy yummies lined up. We're still talking to vendors and have some spots available for others who might be interested. (Call Etheredge at (229) 594-1229.)"
Shugart said bringing Etheredge on as part of his planning team was a no-brainer.
"If you want to have a family-type event, you can't have one without a kiddieland," the businessman said. "Trena's a lifelong friend, and I knew if I put things in her hands, she'd take off and run with it.
"They'll have security bracelets for the kids and a trained staff to watch over them. This won't be a babysitting service, but all of the people involved will have approved references and background checks. We want parents to know their kids will be safe."
As important as Etheredge is to making sure youngsters have a blast at the Throwdown, it's her father who was one of the key players in getting the festival off the ground. When Shugart came to Nichols with his plan about bringing a three-day festival to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds, it was Nichols who helped sell it to the 170-strong membership.
"I knew Sam's background, from the time he was a kid to his successful business career," Nichols said. "Some people said Sam sounded like he was boasting when he told them things he wanted to do, but I made it clear to them that Sam backs up everything he says with results.
"It wasn't long before the club membership had caught Sam's enthusiasm. Of course, those guys had seen the kind of salesman he was at the fair; they saw that he didn't do anything half-way. We went from thinking maybe this was too good to be true to realizing that if anyone could pull it off, it was Sam."
Construction crews are already at work on the fairgrounds, making what Shugart said would be around $100,000 in improvements that will continue to pay dividends for the Exchange Club after the Throwdown.
"The club members usually start working on cleaning up (the fairgrounds) after Labor Day each year to get things ready for the fair," Nichols said. "Our guys put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into getting those buildings and grounds ready, but time is always an issue.
"This year, Sam and his folks are cleaning up the entire (110-acre) property. That's going to benefit the Exchange Club and the Exchange Club Fair of Southwest Georgia Inc., which is the actual owner of the property."
The Exchange Club is receiving rent for the facility and 50 percent of all on-site parking revenue, which Nichols said will allow the club to make even greater contributions to local charities like Open Arms and provide more scholarship money for local students.
"With Sam running things, I think everyone's going to benefit," Nichols said.