The SOWEGA Music and Arts Festival is scheduled to take place Oct. 12-14 at the Albany Fairgrounds.
ALBANY -- Sam Shugart may be the absolute perfect person to put on a music festival. After all, the guy doesn't really care that much about music.
"That's why I have these guys," Shugart said, indicating Albany-based Threeforty Creative Group partners Evan Barber and Justin Andrews. "That's why I asked them on as partners, not investors. They have knowledge about the music business that's vital to what we're doing. I've been organizing events to make money for more than 20 years.
"I think together we have an opportunity to do something big."
What Shugart, the Threeforty guys and other investors, partners and cheerleaders are doing is bringing the first Southwest Georgia Music and Arts Festival to Albany's Exchange Club Fairgrounds Oct. 12-14. Modeled after this weekend's BamaJam festival in Enterprise, Ala., there's nothing small-time about Shugart's vision for the Southwest Georgia fest.
"An estimated 300,000 people attend BamaJam every year, and Enterprise is a town of around 26,000 people," Shugart, a principle in the Reynolds Shugart & Associates insurance agency, said. "Albany's population is 70,000, and the metropolitan statistical area has 135,000 people.
"If they can squeeze 300,000 people in that little community, I don't see why we would have any problem at the 106 acres at the fairgrounds."
Shugart announced plans for the Southwest Georgia Music and Arts Festival at a luncheon Tuesday attended by invited guests.
"Every person here was hand-picked strategically by me for a reason," Shugart said. "I invite you to ask others who might be interested to be a part of the conversation, but everyone here is someone I believe would have a vested interest in the success of what we're doing."
Barber, who in addition to his involvement with Threeforty, leads the alternative band Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers, said finding the right musical acts for the festival will be essential.
"We're going to reach out to some national acts with local ties first, see if we can get them involved in what we're doing," Barber said. "Then we'll fill out the lineup with national, regional and local acts that we have interactions with. I don't think we'll have any trouble putting together a strong lineup for music fans; we have as many as 50 bands who we're interested in or who have expressed interest in us.
"I think we have an advantage in that we'll be talking with the musicians; they're not talking to some promoter. They might say, 'This guy is just some insurance agent,' where they know I'm out there on the road playing, too. The idea we have is Sam will pull in the business, and we'll handle the artistic side of it."
No artists have been signed for the festival, but Shugart mentioned country superstars Luke Bryan, Zac Brown and Dallas Davidson; Georgia rockers drivin' n' cryin'; soul great Percy Sledge, and local acts such as Barber's Gamblers and the Bo Henry Band among those on his wish list.
Shugart has already started putting together logistics, lining up vendors and possible revenue streams, and coming up with special events to hold in conjunction with the festival. Initial plans call for three stages, more than 50 food vendors, more than 200 other miscellaneous vendors, RV and primitive camping, a secure kids area, a national barbecue cooking contest, arts shows and a national armwrestling competition.
Among the ideas he's considering are a fishing exhibition, a boat show, a tractor show, tram stops on the fairgrounds site, a demolition derby, paint ball, carnival games, go-cart rides, mud wrestling and festival T-shirt and memorabilia sales.
"That's why I invited you here; I want people who are going to wake up at midnight with ideas, write them down and then call me about them in the morning," Shugart said. "I want your ideas; I want you thinking outside the box."
While many have broached the idea of a large festival of this sort in the region, no one's been willing to put their money and their time where their mouths are. Until now.
"I've got the fairgrounds on Oct. 12, 13 and 14, so we are going to have a festival," he said. "It may be the Bo Henry Band playing all three days for me, but I will be out there. But I've got a feeling there are a lot of people in this region who will be as excited about this as we are.
"The people here always say they're looking for something to do. Well, we're going to give it to them."