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Country crossroads

After months of planning, crews are building a virtual city to accommodate at least 20,000 people expected to converge on The Expo for the Country Crossings Music Festival.

The crowd is likely to surpass the entire population of Central Point as country music superstars such as Keith Urban draw people from near and far Thursday through Sunday, July 27-30.

While many festival-goers are fanning out to Rogue Valley hotels, others will stay in tents and recreational vehicles at camping sites on- and off-site.

"We subdivide and plan out the spacing so people can bring their RVs and tents. Everything has to be plotted and marked so people can find their space," said Bill Poppie, one of the designers for the festival layout.

Poppie and other veterans of the Country Crossings Music Festival are bringing the expertise they have honed running the festival in other locations. The music extravaganza outgrew its space at Cape Blanco on the Oregon Coast and is making its first appearance in Jackson County this year.

"The first year we can do a really good job," Poppie said. "The second and third year, we hope to improve the logistics even more. The great thing about The Expo is there are so many things already here that help define the space. We will learn from this experience and adapt."

The festival will feature 30 musical acts on three stages. Designers are making use of the existing Bi-Mart Amphitheater at the south end of The Expo grounds. Other performers will appear on a stage inside the Seven Feathers Event Center building in the middle of the grounds.

The most intensive planning and construction effort is focused on the Bi-Mart Main Stage — which is being built from scratch on the dirt and gravel of the mammoth north parking lot. A crane and workers are putting the puzzle pieces of the stage together.

The placement of the 152-foot wide, 100-foot deep stage was precisely determined using GPS, satellite photos and maps.

But Poppie said crews always have to expect surprises.

When they started trying to pound in stakes to mark the edge of the stage, they found the ground of the parking area was too hard. Their solution was to lay down a long length of string, then pin it in place with rocks.

Operations Manager Tim Flowerday said when he started creating one of the camping zones, he discovered the site had been used as a dumping spot for mounds of fill dirt from the construction of the new county-run Southern Oregon RV Park at The Expo.

"I had to move 600 yards of dirt to make my camping field," Flowerday said.

Those types of adaptations are just part of translating plans on paper to the real world, Poppie said.

"One of the most fascinating and interesting things is making decisions along the way. Things change and you have to determine what you'll actually do," he said. "The plan is one thing and the execution is one of the creative parts."

Poppie said a vital part of putting on the festival is the cooperation and help given by Expo Director Helen Funk and her crew, Jackson County and other local government agencies and entities involved in the event.

Avoiding gridlock

Most attendees will not be allowed to park their vehicles at The Expo. Only RVs, VIP ticket holders and people with handicap parking passes will be allowed to park inside. Others have been directed to park six miles from the festival in a general admission parking area at 1665 Avenue G in White City.

First Student Inc. — which normally carries students back and forth during the school year — has been tapped to shuttle people to and from the festival. Buses will avoid Highway 62, which is heavily congested, especially now because of ongoing construction.

Instead, buses will travel along Avenue G, Table Rock Road, Biddle Road and Peninger Road, which leads to The Expo. Peninger Road itself will be closed to through-traffic and people without parking passes beyond the Family Fun Center. The center itself is staying open during the festival.

"The organizers of the Country Crossings event are utilizing the entire Expo site," said Jackson County Engineer Mike Kuntz. "They have a certain number of parking spaces for VIP and disabled guests. If you don't have that pass, you will be told to turn around and leave."

Most festival-goers are being told to avoid Exit 33 off I-5, the exit that is closest to The Expo.

The best option is to take Exit 35 north of the festival, then travel a back route along Kirtland Road, which carries drivers to White City and becomes Avenue G. A less ideal option is to take Exit 30, Medford's north exit, Kuntz said.

"If people don't follow directions, we'll have gridlock. If they do follow directions, we won't have gridlock," Kuntz said.

Organizers are warning people they cannot drive in front of or around The Expo and drop off festival attendees. Instead, people who are being dropped off must be taken to the general admission parking area in White City and ride a shuttle bus in.

The rule will be enforced and the area will be patrolled by Jackson County sheriff's deputies and Central Point police. Violators could have their festival wristbands cut off, organizers warn.

Central Point Public Works Director Matt Samitore said many parking lots inside the city will be turned into paid parking lots. People who pay for parking can walk to the festival. However, he still urged people to use the general admission parking area in White City and take advantage of the shuttle buses.

Festival parking will not be allowed on Central Point streets, and the city will be responding to complaints of RVs camped out in neighborhoods, he said.

"It will be interesting. Since this is the first year, we don't know how much impact we'll have," Samitore said. "We definitely encourage people to park out in White City and shuttle in. That will be the fastest and safest way to get to the event."

Off-site parking with shuttle service is a proven technique for improving the entire festival experience, said Don Leber, vice president of advertising and marketing for Bi-Mart, the title sponsor of the event.

"We've done it in the past and it works very, very well," he said.

Home away from home

Taneea Browning, executive director of the Central Point Chamber of Commerce, said people started booking hotel reservations as soon as the announcement was made that the Country Crossings Music Festival would move to Jackson County for 2017.

"We're excited to see how it all works out. It will be a great economic impact for the whole Rogue Valley," she said.

For those who will be camping during the festival, organizers have made accommodations for everything from tent-dwelling to  "glamping" — or glamorous camping.

"'Glamping' is when the festival provides an RV and everything," Leber said. "The only thing they need to bring is a toothbrush. Food, meals and tickets are included."

While The Expo has restrooms in its buildings, portable toilets and shower stations are also being brought in. Vendors will offer food and drink, with alcoholic beverages offered in a licensed venue area.

D-N-D Porta Potti will offer RV pumping, organizers said.

Samitore warned that dumping RV wastewater into Central Point's street storm drains is an absolute no-no, especially since the untreated material would eventually pour into Bear Creek.

'It's a criminal act with fines up to $2,500. We definitely don't want people doing that," he said. "If they are caught, they will be fined."

Mike Sturm of Grants Pass-based Mike's Water Truck Service is pulling some of his workers off wildfire duty to answer the call from Country Crossings to provide extra water for campers. He normally trucks water for fire suppression, firefighter base camps, pools, wells and other needs.

"It's good for the business," he said. "I don't normally work in Central Point."

When it comes to noise and the impact on neighbors, Leber said the stages are pointed away from the closest residential areas.

"But it definitely will be heard in the area," he said.

Organizers are warning campers to keep a lid on noise from midnight to 7 a.m.

"This means voices must be quiet by midnight, generators shut off, sing-alongs reduced to the slightest of murmurs and all whooping and hollering canned for the night," organizers said on the festival's website, adding that on-site security guards and law enforcement will be enforcing the local noise ordinance.

Although a smooth-running festival will require everyone's cooperation and adherence to rules, Leber said the wide-ranging economic impact and entertainment opportunities should make it all worthwhile.

"The biggest thing is the giant size and scope of the event and what it means for Southern Oregon," he said. "This is a multi-, multi-million dollar event that's bringing the best country music to Southern Oregon and all the tourists."

Reach staff reporter Vickie Aldous at 541-776-4486 or valdous@mailtribune.com. Follow her at www.twitter.com/VickieAldous.

Country Crossings Map by Mail Tribune on Scribd

Stage hands work on construction of the Bi-Mart Main Stage for the Country Crossings Music Festival at the Jackson County Expo on Friday. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]
The wide expanse of the north parking lot at The Expo will be filled with thousands of people when the Country Crossings Music Festival starts Thursday. At the center of the photo, taken Friday, a new stage is being built for the headliners. [Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch]