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Crews beat heat, time, fire to prepare for Country Crossings

CENTRAL POINT — By the time a 97-acre grass fire threatened the eastern end of town near the Jackson County Fairgrounds Tuesday, Expo crews and incoming Country Crossings festival coordinators had been in “go” mode for days.

With a short turnaround between county fair activities and the second annual Crossings festival, Expo Community Development Director Rob Holmbeck said all hands already were on deck when the fire broke out.

“The fire was mostly to the south of us. It started down behind the Family Fun Center along the Greenway. We stopped it from coming this way. We used our water truck to stop it,” Holmbeck said, acknowledging the potential disaster of a large fire — which threatened structures and even jumped Pine Street — happening smack dab in the middle of the venue’s two largest events.

Holmbeck said campgrounds planned for the festival were unscathed and no issues were expected. Coordinators between The Expo and festival personnel had worked diligently to iron out first-year hiccups such as parking and shuttle access to the nightly shows.

“These are our two biggest events. We all just kind of do what we’ve got to do. We have a great team of people down here that pull together and we just make it happen no matter what comes our way,” he said.

In a carefully choreographed dance, crews were busy coordinating takedown of animal exhibits, midway rides and other fair activities at the same time set-up for Country Crossings, expected to draw 20,000, was getting underway.

“Our last (fair) concert is always Saturday, and we started moving our animal exhibits before the end of fair. That was the biggest part of what we needed to worry about, because Country Crossings uses those barns. We had Olsrud turned over by Sunday night and almost ready to go before the fair was over,” he added, noting that indoor structures transition from animal and craft exhibits to staging for medical personnel and volunteers.

The only lingering hiccup: phone lines took a day or so to be restored after the fire.

Bill Poppe of Country Crossings said crews arrived Monday evening to prepare staging of the 152-foot-wide, 100-foot-deep main stage, mapped via GPS and satellite. Solid planning and communication are key, Poppe said.

“Everything is built on a just-in-time timeline. Some of this is a little bit of a dance we do with folks from The Expo and from the fair. They’re often still moving the rides and those kinds of things out of the way. We concentrate on the stage area first while the rides get taken down. It’s definitely a dance,” Poppe said.

Planned changes for this year’s Crossings include a bigger lineup of local and regional talent on a smaller stage, more exit points to avoid long end-of-night lines and, instead of offering general admission parking, local schools and other groups will provide parking and shuttle services.

Another change over last year, the Lithia Motors Amphitheater won’t be utilized due to the angle of the sun (a point comedian Jeff Foxworthy turned into a crack about blinded talent during the fair). Headliners this year include Cole Swindell, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Eric Church.

No strangers to big events, Poppe’s group has 11 years under its belt coordinating large-scale music festivals. But he says each year is a learning experience over the last.

“The turnaround is pretty fast, but we’ve been doing it for a while, so we’ve got it down pretty well,” Poppe said.

“With events that are this large, even though a lot of things are in the same place, there are so many different aspects that can change or are even just a little bit different. It’s always a process of rediscovering some things that have worked well and learning from last year. People aren’t used to being in a crowd of 20,000, so it’s important for things to run smoothly.”

He noted, “We get done here, then we have two weeks before the Brownsboro festival, and we have one in (Mountain Home) Idaho.”

As for Holmbeck and his gang, once county fair, fire season and Country Crossings are tucked away for the year, he’ll breathe a sigh of relief.

“This is what we do. We just keep going and we make it happen,” he said.

“But we do all get to finally take time off after Country Crossings.”

Online: http://cxfest.com/

Reach Medford freelance writer Buffy Pollock at buffyp76@yahoo.com.

Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Teams set up fences for Country Crossings music festival at the Jackson County Expo.