ALBANY -- While the number of fans who came to the Exchange Club Fairgrounds for the Georgia Throwdown Oct. 12-14 -- estimated by officials with management team Huka Entertainment in excess of 15,000 -- were less than had been hoped for, planners of the event said the enthusiastic crowds certainly provided plenty of hope for the future.
So much so, in fact, primary organizer Sam Shugart this week told members of the core team that planned and put on the festival that Huka had agreed to partner with them for Throwdown II.
"Huka doesn't want to run the festival, they want to partner with us," Shugart told a gathering. "That's huge for us. They have millions of dollars in support and resources at their fingertips. They told us we had no major fixes we needed to make, that we did things right. And they loved the community involvement."
Shugart and members of that core team will fly to New Orleans soon to finalize a partnership agreement with Huka and shortly after will fly to Nashville to meet with representatives of the William Morris Agency, CAA and Buddy Lee Entertainment, the world's three largest talent agencies.
"We're going to meet with them all in one day, and when we come back to Albany, we will have the name of 10 or so superstar acts we've signed," Shugart said. "By Christmas, we should have our top tier acts booked. We'll fill out the lineup with some of the top regional acts.
"From the time we signed our top acts (Big & Rich, Lynyrd Skynyrd, drivin n cryin, Uncle Kracker) this year, we had 29 days to promote the show. If we get everything in place by the end of the year, we'll have 10 months to promote a superstar lineup for next year's festival."
While Shugart and the Throwdown team were looking eagerly ahead to Throwdown II, they had good things to say about the initial festival.
"The first thing I'd like to say is thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you," Shugart told team members. "People are saying we've pulled off some kind of miracle by doing something many of them said couldn't be done. We learned a lot this year -- an education that will be in the seven-figure range.
"And now we have a number of assets -- a website, a phone app, storage buildings, equipment, printers, an emergency safety plan, fencing -- that we had to purchase this year. I think those things are part of what Huka saw that made them want to partner with us."
It was more than that, though, according to members of the core team.
"Being a part of this, seeing it come together from the beginning, was really amazing," Mike Kostoff, who was part of the management team, said. "The camaraderie was just amazing. We were on the festival grounds on Saturday, and one of the guys from the production company called me over and said, 'Look around at all this. We did this.'"
Kostoff, who came to Albany to work on a project at the Marine Corps Logistics Base, said the community spirit has grown on him.
"I just signed another one-year contract that will keep me here until Oct. 3 of next year," he said. "And, frankly, I don't know that I'd want to move on now. I hadn't had a vacation in three years, and I took one to be part of the Throwdown. Wild horses couldn't keep me away next year."
Angie Barber said the advance crew that came to town to be part of the festival left singing the community's praises.
"If anybody needed anything, it happened," Barber said. "The folks that came here fell in love with the city. They loved the people here, loved being out on our water, loved the restaurants, loved the music. They all said they wanted to come back."
Even some of the vaunted musicians left Southwest Georgia with a good taste in their mouths.
"(Songwriting superstar and Albany native) Dallas (Davidson) called and said he had to tell me something," Shugart said. "He said he ran into a guy from the William Morris Agency (in Nashville) who represents Lynyrd Skynyrd. The guy asked Dallas what they'd done at the festival.
"He said the guys in Lynyrd Skynyrd said they'd played in exactly two festivals in their long career where (organizers) got everything right. And ours was one of them."
Team member Brice Thompson of Seaboard Advisors said Shugart is the primary reason the festival drew rave reviews from all involved.
"Sam makes work fun, he motivates folks to work harder," Thompson said. "They see him out picking up trash or doing other things that need to be done, and suddenly you've got people who are way over-qualified doing anything they can to help out."
And then, there was the music.
"I loved every part of the whole weekend, but that time of playing was so much fun," businessman/musician Bo Henry said. "Everyone from those who played on the acoustic stage to the big stage were a big part of making the Throwdown an incredible weekend of music, like we've never seen here before."
As the team looks forward to Throwdown II with more superstar acts and a partnership with the best musical management team in the world, memories of the first festival remain fixed in team members' minds. Musician Evan Barber perhaps best summed up those memories.
"I looked out there during Skynyrd's set, and I saw these burly bikers hugging and kissing each other," Barber said. "Music -- good music -- speaks to people, it saves people's souls. We spoke to a lot of people at the Throwdown."