Excitement growing for music and arts festival

Signs will go up soon recognizing The Exchange Club Fairgrounds in Albany as home of the first Southwest Georgia Music & Arts Festival. The three-day festival is scheduled to be held at Oct. 12-14.

Signs will go up soon recognizing The Exchange Club Fairgrounds in Albany as home of the first Southwest Georgia Music & Arts Festival. The three-day festival is scheduled to be held at Oct. 12-14.

ALBANY, Ga. — People keep trying to find Sam Shugart’s “angle,” to uncover his hidden agenda as he talks about such unheard-of concepts as allowing nonprofits free access to the inaugural Southwest Georgia Music and Arts Festival or making potentially large-volume deals with his word rather than some involved contract.

Like the guy who’s in charge of bringing the state Elk’s Club convention to Albany, which happens to be scheduled the weekend of Oct. 12-14, the same weekend as the festival.

“The gentleman said he was worried that all the local hotel rooms would be booked,” Shugart said during a conversation at his Reynolds Shugart & Associates office Thursday. “I asked him how many rooms he thought they’d need, and he said around 80. I told him to call Merry Acres Inn and he’d find 80 rooms reserved for him at a discout rate. Then I told him when he confirmed the reservation to call me back and I’d talk about getting him some armbands to get into the festival.

“The guy was like, ‘Who are you? Are you for real’?”

Shugart gets that a lot, moreso now that he’s announced plans for the music and arts festival at the Exchange Club Fairgrounds here. To say there’s never been anything quite like it in Albany is understatement, but that hasn’t slowed the insurance agent/entrepreneur from moving forward with plans for the three-day festival.

And while he’s a few days away from announcing the festival’s musical lineup, Shugart and his team — which includes local restaurateur/musician Bo Henry, Evan Barber and Justin Andrews with the Threeforty Creative Group, and other “hand-picked” partners — are working tirelessly to start putting the pieces of the festival puzzle together.

Site work started Thursday on the 106-acre festival grounds — “We’ll end up doing $50,000 worth of work on the property for the Exchange Club,” Shugart noted — and Shugart, Andrews, Barber and Henry have all been talking with promoters and agents about the festival lineup.

“We’re working this thing backwards, signing the Tier 1 (national) acts first,” Shugart said. “If we sign a big-name act, we’re going to give him the opportunity to play the slot he wants. Then we’ll fill in with Tier 2 — or mid-level — and the Tier 3, or local, acts.

“We’re going to have 40 bands (performing on three stages), which means slots will be limited, and I was going to have to hurt the feelings of some of my close friends who play locally. So we kicked around the idea and came up with the concept of building a ‘Camper Stage’ where local bands can entertain the folks in the camping area. And everyone who plays there will have an opportunity to say they played with national acts.”

Shugart said another part of the musical plan for the main stage calls for an “Albany Jam,” at which local musicians like Henry, Barber and others will play a set together.

“Things with the festival are definitely moving forward,” Henry said Thursday. “We’ve got lists of bands that we’re considering, and we’re talking with promoters. But I’ve said all along this festival can be a success no matter if we have regional, headliner or superstar acts. Albany just needs something like this.

“The one thing that the festival needs — and I’m already seeing it — is community support. We’re getting that, and a lot of the reason is that Sam is a driving force, one of those get-her-done type of guys.”

Barber, meanwhile, said progress is being made through negotiations with several well-known acts.

“I think we’ll have one or two signed soon that will get people’s attention,” he said. “We’ve already started making progress, and next week should be a big one for the festival.”

Shugart also announced that he’s added Cynthia George to his planning team as nonprofit liaison, and Dewey Hall as production manager. George is best known in the community for her work at Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital, the Albany Area Chamber of Commerce and a number of nonprofit agencies, while Hall is well-known and respected in the music community, particularly by Southern rock bands that made it big in the 1970s and ‘80s.

“Anybody who knows Sam knows he has the biggest heart, and he wants to give local nonprofits an opportunity to make some money off the festival,” George said. “It’s an opportunity to raise funds and awareness for the nonprofits. We’re hoping the groups will come up with fun ways to raise funds; they’re going to be a big part of this huge festival.

“I’m personally excited to be included in this. We need something positive to happen in Albany, something that the community can get behind. I think this is it. And I know there will be naysayers who say this can’t be done, but that just makes me and people like Sam more determined to succeed.”

Hall said he’s already started looking over the fairground site to come up with a logistics plan, and he’s also reaching out to some of the musicians being considered for the festival lineup.

“I had an impromptu lunch with Evan, Sam, Bo and Justin, and we were discussing the festival shortly after the story about it came out in The Herald,” Hall said. “After we talked a while, Sam asked me to come on board to help with the production. That’s my area of expertise: setting up stages, lighting, sound. I’ll be involved from the ground up.

“I’ve also made a few overtures to some of the artists I’ve been around over the years. I feel like I’ve caught my second wind; I’ve really gotten jacked up. I’m really excited about the festival.”

Once a musical lineup is in place, the festival will announce ticket prices and points of sale. A website should be up and running by next week, and interest will no doubt be keen. Shugart said the festival’s Facebook page had gotten 110,000 hits in just six days.

“This is going to be amazing; it already is,” Shugart said. “What this is is my 20 years of business and nonprofit experience slamming together. It’s all been waiting to click, and it has for this festival. I guess it could be overwhelming if this wasn’t the way the Lord made me. For me it’s about putting the right people in the right places.

“No one can do something like this by themself. No. 1, it would be greedy. I just tell the people that come on board that whatever I do that will benefit me will benefit you, too. I’m getting 250-300 emails and phone calls a day, and people are asking me ‘What can I do?’ I tell them to come see what we’re doing, watch and then tell me what they can do. I’m telling the world, come and get some of this.”