Newly painted concession booths stand ready for the upcoming Georgia Throwdown, scheduled next weekend at Albany’s Exchange Club Fairgrounds.
ALBANY, Ga. -- As he looks out over the 106-acre expanse of the Exchange Club Fairgrounds, a wistful smile makes its way onto musician/businessman Evan Barber's face.
"I'll probably never look at this place the same way," he says. "I've always looked at the fairgrounds and thought, 'This is where I threw up after riding the ferris wheel.' Now ... it's taken on a whole different meaning."
The place where Southwest Georgians have for decades spun themselves sick on thrill rides, consumed tons of chili dogs, funnel cakes, cotton candy and candy apples, and spent hundreds of dollars trying to win $5 stuffed animals has been transformed over the last several weeks. Next weekend it will officially become home of the Georgia Throwdown, a three-day music and arts festival destined to become the largest entertainment event in Albany's history.
"The Exchange Club Fairgrounds have always been a big part of Albany and this region," principle Throwdown organizer Sam Shugart said. "When we first started talking about putting on a festival back in December, I couldn't think of a better place, a place more familiar to the people of Southwest Georgia.
"It's been quite a process transforming this huge property into one for the music festival. But I think the people here are going to be surprised, and hopefully impressed, with what we've done."
A lot of the fairgrounds makeover is not stuff that will be obvious to regular fairgoers. Days of work have gone into clearing land for RVs and campers, stringing "kissing lights" in wooded areas for primitive campsites, turning the livestock pavillion into a VIP area.
But planners and organizers are paying close attention to the smallest of details to maximize the enjoyment of the thousands expected to converge on the fairgrounds next Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
"Customer satisfaction is such a big part of this," Throwdown organizer/businessman/musician Bo Henry said. "Our goal is to make sure everyone who comes in here, from the time they walk through the gate until the time they leave, has a pleasant experience.
"We want to make everything easy to get to, plan out details from bars to bathrooms to EMT and emergency care. We're fortunate to have (Mobile, Ala.-based) Huka Entertainment's site guys to help us get everything ready. They've come in and helped us make things happen."
Except for those entering the camping area in RVs or service vehicles, Throwdown attendees will enter the fairgrounds through the front gate much as they do during the annual fair. They will enter the pavillion hall adjacent to the entrance, which will serve as site of the J&B Irrigation Saloon Stage for acoustic performers like Rod Holt, AMP Up the Music, Stephen Harrell and Spencer Bell.
The pavillion will also house one of 14 bars erected for the festival, pool tables and a number of displays set up by local nonprofits.
To the immediate left of the building's exit onto the fairgrounds is the Fox 31 Stage, which will feature such artists as Unbreakable Bllodline, the Ryan West Band, Rhyal Knight, Messendger and Caitlin Guiterrez.
Facing the Fox 31 Stage, some 200 yards due east, is the Phoebe Community Visions Stage, which will showcase such artists as Barber & the Dead Gamblers, the Bo Henry Band, Another Alien Astronaut, Relapse, Faith Jackson, the Lacs, Col. Bruce Hampton and Cole Taylor.
Adjacent to the Phoebe stage is the VIP area, which includes a VIP bar -- with drinks at half-price -- food and access to the stage.
Along the fairgrounds' midway will be dozens of vendors hawking food and drinks, souvineers, band merchandise, arts and crafts, and just about any other item imaginable. Taking up part of the vendor space will be "Before I Die ..." and "Before I Leave the Throwdown ..." walls set up by the Make Your Space nonprofit. Attendees can leave messages that will be photographed and posted on the Make Your Space website.
The festival's biggest-name acts -- Lynyrd Skynyrd, Drive-By Truckers, Big & Rich, Uncle Kracker, Easton Corbin, Colt Ford, Randy Houser, drivin n cryin, Sarah Davidson, the Peach Pickers' Dallas Davidson and Rhett Akins -- will perform on the 91-foot by 45-foot Flintco Throwdown Stage, located at the extreme north end of the site. Five bars will be set up strategically to serve fans flocking to the main stage.
West of the Flintco stage is the festival's Kiddie-Land, an area set aside strictly for kids and supervised by officials at Albany's Wilder's World.
Nine hundred VIP parking spaces are located along the edge of the midway, while 4,500 regular fair parking spots are available. A section of parking is also available just south of the primitive camping area. Portable toilets are set up in the camping area and along the midway, and three newly remodeled fair bathrooms will be available. Patrons will also be allowed to buy a "Royal Flush" pass that will give them weekend access to regularly cleaned facilities. The passes are part of the festival's VIP package.
"We've tried to address every detail that will go into making this a fun experience," Barber said. "We've been planning and working to put this together for a long time, and at times it's been exhausting. But now it's game time. I think we're ready."