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Organizers, law enforcement help improve festival traffic

A slight redemption over Thursday night mishaps for the four-day Country Crossings Music Festival, organizers and local law enforcement agencies showed an increased presence — added patrols and increased number of shuttles — after Friday night's performance while patrons showed a slight increase in understanding on social media.

The festival, which organizers anticipate a crowd of over 20,000, opened Thursday night.

While traffic along main city and county roads seemed to run smoothly, the unexpected “after party” after opening day for the festival involved long lines — thousands of angry patrons waiting for a half-dozen buses to ferry them to parking lots and campsites — and Facebook posts ranging from refund demands to I-told-you-so folks pointing out the gridlock had been predicted.

Festival organizers posted a message on social media Thursday night, following headline Jake Owen’s performance acknowledging the "shuttle situation wasn't good tonight and we are working our boots off to improve matters tomorrow with better bus frequency."

The post yielded more than 500 comments, largely complaints over parking, shuttle issues and over long lines for beer tickets.

Facebook member Sonya Sparks Niebling said, “I won’t come back until you get this organized! And maybe never! Been standing in the bus for an hour and barely moved! And that’s not the only complaint! Travel all over the country for festivals… by far the most disappointing one so far!”

Facebook member Jordana Kiel offered sympathy for festival organizers, applauding the multiple locations to purchase water and plentiful number of restrooms. Even still, Kiel said, “need a little work on shuttles.”

Following Friday night headliners Brett Eldridge and Luke Bryan, some improvement over Thursday was noted with the evening's 11 p.m. "exit plan" receiving a mix of good and bad reviews. One hiccup, festival organizers had announced northbound Peninger would be closed to vehicle traffic after 8 p.m. however dozens of vehicles honked and revved engines driving through hoards of patrons walking down the allegedly closed road.

A far cry from a small band of buses on Thursday, a line of some 30 buses greeted patrons who opted to leave via shuttle.

Jackson County Sheriff’s Department officials posted an official statement on their Facebook page thanking patrons for being patient and promised an increased presence during the final three nights of the event.

An increased number of festival-goers seemed to opt for private parking options with local residents, businesses and community groups who rented out parking lot spaces for ranging between $10 and $30 per day for those willing to walk a small distance.

Katie McClenathan, a property owner with a vacant lot across from Fair City Market, urged non-shuttle-fans to utilize community parking areas to avoid long waits. McClenathan said her lot offered cold water and even the courtesy of overnight parking for RVs and patrons who unexpectedly drink too much at the nearby festival.

“We have tons of cold bottled water and you can avoid the traffic and the shuttles,” she said.

“We had lots of people [Thursday] night asking about our parking due to the long walk and the shuttle wait. We heard it was pretty bad. We are as close as you can get to the event so we’re expecting to have a lot more cars today. I’m sure a lot of people will still use the shuttle system but we’re here if people are looking for an easier option.”