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Fairgrounds get upgrade for festival

Heavy equipment used for making improvements at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds sits idle Wednesday during frequent rain storms passing through the area.

Heavy equipment used for making improvements at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds sits idle Wednesday during frequent rain storms passing through the area.

ALBANY, Ga. -- For longtime Albany residents, a drive up to the main entrance of the Exchange Club Fairgrounds stirs feelings that are equal parts anticipation and nostalgia.

This is, after all, where generations of area families have come for the thrills and excitement of the annual fall fair. The livestock arena, the exhibit pavilion, the demolition derby ring, the small buildings on the midway are all as familiar to Southwest Georgians as any of the shopping districts they frequent in the area.

Keep walking east, though, past all those familiar buildings along the fairgrounds proper, and a startling change becomes apparent. Land that once was significant only for its insignificance -- acre after acre marked only by indistinguishable pine trees and scrub brush -- is undergoing a transformation. Heavy machinery is taking down some of those pines, collecting and hauling off equipment that has long sat abandoned and a large controlled fire eliminates inert materials cleared from the 106 acres owned by the Exchange Club Fairgrounds of Southwest Georgia.

The work is part of the ongoing effort to turn the fairgrounds into the site of a three-day music and arts festival. And it's also evidence that that festival, now known as the Georgia Throwdown, is being put together by a group that leaves little to chance and does nothing halfway.

"This is our way of saying we're serious about this festival, about its future in Albany," said businessman Sam Shugart, who is the heart and soul of the Sowega Music and Arts Festival Georgia Throwdown, scheduled at the fairgrounds Oct. 12-14. "When we talked with the Exchange Club about renting the fairgrounds, we assured them they would get value beyond the rental of the grounds and the parking revenue they'll generate.

"We're creating a vested interest for the Exchange Club to want to work with us next year and the year after. The reason we're spending our time, our energy and our resources to spruce up the fairgrounds is to offer proof that we intend to keep coming back."

Along with time, energy and resources, Shugart and his Throwdown team are also spending money, a lot of it. By his estimates, the group will have poured between $100,000 and $150,000 into their efforts to clean up the fairgrounds and make it more fan-friendly, camper-friendly and sponsor-friendly.

Those efforts are not lost on the Exchange Club, which raises funds to benefit charitable groups and provide educational opportunities for local students.

"There's no question Sam and his group have improved our property," Exchange President Skip Nichols said. "Things that our membership had hoped to get to at some point -- hauling off materials on the property, cleaning underbrush, organizing stored materials -- they're doing for us.

"With them taking care of the land well beyond the 45 acres or so we use during the fair, our members are now sprucing up the on-site facilities. We're completely upgrading the restrooms and doing work on the other buildings. The work they're doing for the festival is a bonus for us that will reach beyond the festival itself."

Shugart, who is perhaps even more widely known for his philanthropic efforts than he is for his successful business ventures, said the work his core team is doing on the fairgrounds has the potential to pay dividends that will impact the entire region.

"Just look at the opportunities the Exchange Club will have," he said. "Instead of just planning the fair and the (annual) coon hunt, they can lease the fairgrounds 10 times or more a year. And those events will bring people into the community who are going to spend their dollars here. It's a win-win for everyone involved.

"Depending, of course, on the reaction to the Throwdown, we're looking to add two or maybe even three more festivals a year, perhaps as soon as next year. I can see us having some kind of blues/jazz festival in the spring, a bluegrass/Southern rock event in the summer and a country festival in the fall. There's no reason not to take advantage of this facility."

Nichols admits that the new and improved fairgrounds have Exchange Club officials looking beyond the annual November fair and January coon hunt.

"(The improvements) will certainly give us a better, more marketable venue to rent," Nichols said. "I think the people who come to the fair (which runs Nov. 6-11 this year) and the coon hunt (Jan. 25-26) will appreciate the changes."

Shugart, meanwhile, said contract negotiations are ongoing with national acts that he expects to soon add to the festival lineup.

"Although there were a couple of minor glitches with our ticket sites, we've hopefully got those ironed out," Shugart said. "Ticket sales are going very well, and once we announce the other acts that will be part of the Throwdown, I think it's going to be Katy bar the door."

Among the first acts announced for the festival are Drive-By Truckers, the Peach Pickers (featuring Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins), Col. Bruce Hampton, Colt Ford and Corey Smith. Tickets, which are $45 for single days and $85 for a weekend pass, are available at www.ticketalternative.com or www.georgiathrowdown.com.

Comments

Hoodie 1 year, 7 months ago

Kinda late they already lost the biggest hunt Albany will ever see this new Concert will have to make up the money the UKC hunt brought to Albany AKC won't come close to the amount of hunters the classic brought I'm glad the grounds are getting remodeled they need it but it is too little too late to save the traditional hunt Albany was used to having every January

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Amazed2 1 year, 7 months ago

Last time I looked at the calendar today it is August 31, 2012. Kinda getting close to the big Throwdown to not know who all is playing yet?? Other that some Truck. Guys and Davidson aka Peach Pickers where are the big name acts.

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Amazed2 1 year, 7 months ago

I certainly think and agres Dallas Davidson is currently kn top in writing top country hits but he apparently do es not consider himself a top performer cause he does not perform his songs. He sells words.

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Terihdfxr 1 year, 7 months ago

They have the redneck rapper Colt Ford. He is the only big name I saw on the list. We went to see him in Sasser and won’t pay to see him again. Sorry not enough big talent for me to pay to go. Id would loved to see some bigger names that would have drawn people from all over to see. I’m afraid this will be a huge flop, due to lack of talent that people recognize. They should have hired a good orginizer who is used to doing these types of events.

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Hoodie 1 year, 7 months ago

I think that they threw it together this year and thought Dallas would be able to bring in the bigger acts and it's not working Money brings in big acts not "Hey buddy would you do me a favor?"

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billybob 1 year, 7 months ago

I think you're probably right. Big, national acts are also booked months and months in advance and appearance fees can easily run 250K and up. Having said that, my hat is off to them for the idea and maybe next year will be a little better. I knew they were having trouble booking talent with all of these Fletcher puff pieces coming out but nothing about the acts who would be performing.

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Amazed2 1 year, 7 months ago

Well time will tell in just several weeks. The investors like to make money. Sam is good at insurance and properties. Bo Henry and Stuart have done a great job with the resturant business and they have made some money I think. But all of them need remember or shall I say will remember where they are making money. I might possibly consider paying $20 for a one night ticket but I have not seen anybody playing so far that would make me have the urge to pull out more. The 300,000 possible people mentioned is nuts. I will be surprised if they get 5000 over 3 days.

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SamShugart 1 year, 7 months ago

Thank you all for your encouraging words. This is an attendance optional event - you are welcome to opt out. I am sure that you have all hosted, promoted and put on much larger soirees than the one that we are producing in October, please jump on board and help us with this project. Any of you that are on a first name basis with the worlds largest musical artists, please contact me - we can use your assistance in that department for sure. While awaiting your calls, we will continue to negotiate with their management teams and promoters. I am also quite sure that you have all been more successful restaurant and hospitality professionals that Bo and Stewart - we can use your help there too. Those that have been the #1 country music songwriter in the world more times than Dallas (holds world record for writer AND number one song produced in 8 months) are welcome to inject your troubadour talents with him in Nashville. As for my careers in insurance, real estate, mill-work, billiard emporiums, civic projects, charitable work, community projects, etc - I can use all of the time and energy that you can spare. "Res ipsa loquitur" - please get out of our way and keep your negativity to yourselves. Sam Shugart - 1704 Gillionville Road.

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Amazed2 1 year, 7 months ago

"Opted Out" Guess I must know all the wrong people cause these comment by the posters seem to reflect comments I hear on the streets of Albany. Maybe I hear the wrong crowd and age group. Seriously Best Wishes.

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Hoodie 1 year, 7 months ago

X2 Words spoke as leader of the pack pollutes the followers....

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Hoodie 1 year, 7 months ago

Bahahahaha only in Smallbany

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Hoodie 1 year, 7 months ago

Don't get cocky just cause you've been successful your white and in this town that means nothing. Gang violence-shootings-armed robberies-breaking and entering autos there are plenty of reasons why nothing in Albany will be put on without any doubts. I have plenty of friends that travel to go to these type concerts that were excited when this was announced, but their excitement is waning. The Sasser flea market is pulling acts like those that have been announced so far and people just can't justify the price. During the Albany Fair violent fights happen every year I wouldn't put my children in that kinda situation. I wish it well and have my doubts I plan on opting out not just because of the words written here but also my right not to support the exchange club or any of it's fundraisers after the way the UKC/AKC hunts were handled. Maybe it'll be successful maybe it won't only time will tell and time is something we can never have enough of.....

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