Throwdown II? It's up to community

From left are Throwdown organizers Evan Barber, Sam Shugart and Justin Andrews.

From left are Throwdown organizers Evan Barber, Sam Shugart and Justin Andrews.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Because of business decisions over which they had no control, members of the group that brought the Georgia Throwdown to Albany last October find themselves right back where they started: standing alone.

But businessmen Sam Shugart and Justin Andrews and musician Evan Barber, along with members of a core team that includes Bo Henry and Jeb Tabb, say one thing hasn't changed. They still plan to bring Throwdown II to Southwest Georgia.

One thing that has changed, though, is the planned fall date of the music festival. Circumstances beyond the group's control has forced a move to springtime, by which time the principals hope to have a lineup in place that includes bigger acts even than the original lineup, which included Lynyrd Skynyrd, Big & Rich and Drive-By Truckers.

"Our goal is still the same: to prove that we can have a successful big-time music show in Albany, Georgia," primary event organizer Shugart said. "Look at what they did in Enterprise, Alabama (BamaJam), Live Oak, Florida (Wanee Festival), Manchester, Tennessee (Bonnaroo) and Indio, California (Coachella). None of those places is close to as big as Albany.

"What we did last year was way beyond anything anybody had done here before. In many ways, the Throwdown was an amazing success."

Shugart pauses momentarily as he considers his statement.

"The one way our festival was not successful, though, was financially," he says. "A lot of that had to do with mistakes we made, but they're mistakes that are fixable. We understand now what we have to do.

"But there's one thing we have no control over. The community has got to support what we're doing, or we'll never be successful. We've been told we're stupid to do something like this in Albany -- we've had dozens of markets from Virginia to Alabama to Florida to North Georgia ask us to do exactly what we did (at the Throwdown) where they are. But this is our home. We're determined to prove these folks wrong."

The naysayers told Shugart and Co. they were out of their element when they announced plans for the three-day festival last fall. But they pressed on, turning the Exchange Club Fairgrounds in southwest Albany into a showcase venue worthy of the local, regional and national acts that played to enthusiastic but smaller-than-needed crowds.

Andrews points out that local nonprofits, who were allowed to raise funds at the Throwdown and keep all that they made, and local businesses and vendors made lots of money at the festival. And, Barber notes, "There were memories created that, 30 years from now when everyone in Albany is still saying there's nothing to do here, music fans will tell them about seeing Skynyrd and Drive-By Truckers and Big & Rich at the first Throwdown."

Barber, whose band Evan Barber & the Dead Gamblers played a rousing show at the Throwdown and picked up a number of new fans in the process, said the lack of support needed to make the Throwdown financially viable is a symptom of a widespread malady in Albany and Southwest Georgia.

"People have been saying the same old thing here forever -- 'There's nothing to do in Albany' -- and yet when people put themselves out there to provide something to do, they don't support it," the musician said. "It's not just the Throwdown, either. Look at some of the things that we've had here lately -- FlintFest, Mardi Gras, shows at the Civic Center.

"There's no reason for people not to support the things we have going on; they just don't. At some point, it's hard not to listen to the people who keep telling us, 'We love your idea, but why do it in Albany?'"

Andrews, who with Barber and Tabb operates the 340 Creative Group, said the Throwdown has gotten nothing but rave reviews from performers, technical crews and especially from music fans who attended.

"One thing we've heard from everyone is that the level of the production is the kind you get in Atlanta or Los Angeles or other bigger cities," Andrews said. "We brought that to Albany, and when people come up and tell us how much fun they had and we look at the pictures of people having a great time in their own backyard, man, there's nothing to compare to that.

"And when everyone was saying how dangerous this would be and we did not have one single incident the whole three days ... well, man that's just proof that we did things the right way."

Still, the fact remains that the smaller-than-expected attendance severely dampened prospects for a follow-up show.

"The time factor -- not being able to announce the bands until (three weeks before the show) hurt us," Shugart said. "That's one of the reasons we've decided to look at doing the second Throwdown in the spring. When some things that we had no control over kind of fell through at the 13th hour, we knew we had to re-evaluate and do things the right way this time.

"Time and public doubt were our biggest enemies for the first Throwdown, but we overcame them. We're taking a more realistic approach this time."

The principles planning Throwdown II say they're looking at some (potentially significant) fall and winter solo shows in the community that will help them decide the future of the festival.

"We're looking at doing some fall shows that will help us gauge the public support we can expect for (Throwdown II)," Barber said. "It's clear our city and county leaders are willing to support us -- they were great last year -- but we've got to have support from the community to make this work.

"If there's enough support (for the one-off events), that's going to go a long way toward showing us if the community's going to get behind us. I run into people all the time who listen to my band and say, 'Why don't you guys move to Nashville and play there?' I just tell them, 'Why don't you come out and support our shows in Albany?' This is where we are."

Shugart, Andrews, Barber and other members of their core team say they want nothing more than to bring Throwdown II to Albany, to show all doubters that their community can put the festival on the same map as Wanee, Bonnaroo and Coachella. But they're going to need help from all those folks complaining about having nothing to do.

"This whole thing started out as nothing more than five or six guys with a vision," Shugart said. "When everyone around us was saying 'You can't do this,' we did it. But now the entire community -- the entire region -- is going to have to take ownership.

"No matter how hard we work and how much we want this to happen, we can't do it alone."