Bucky Covington impressed fans and organizers with his showmanship.
T. Graham Brown was the featured performer on Thursday night.
Kebo Cyrus, who performed all three nights, autographs the T-shirt of a young fan on Thursday night.
If you build it, they may not come after all. At least not in the numbers anticipated.
Organizers of Fire Jam 2009, the three-night concert series planned in conjunction with last week?s Marion County Fair, are left wondering why the event attracted only 750 or so people.
The Marion County Fire Chiefs Association, which took the lead in planning the event as a fundraiser for a training center for firefighters, had been anticipating as many as 5,000 people just for Friday night?s concert featuring headliner Bucky Covington.
The show drew about 500.
?We were gearing up for huge numbers, especially for Friday night? that?s what we were hoping for, and we wanted to be prepared for that,? said Ben Steketee, MCFCA chairman.
?An organization wonder?
And they were prepared, he added. In fact, if preparation was the measuring stick, the event was an overwhelming success.
?It was just a fantastic experience of cooperation,? Steketee said, as firefighters from volunteer departments around the county joined forces with emergency medical technicians, state, county and local law enforcement officers and the county Emergency Management office.
?It was an organizational wonder,? Steketee said. ?We all worked together.?
Organizers say the list of volunteer workers was 90 to 100 names long, and that didn?t include the organizing committee, EMTs or an estimated 20 to 30 law enforcement personnel.
?This was the most secure place in the state of Kansas, I?m quite certain,? Steketee said with a smile. ?We had great cooperation from law enforcement, and they were so happy there were no crimes to solve while they were here and no arrests to make.
?But we were prepared.?
In addition to Covington, the entertainment docket included Kebo Cyrus performing all three nights and T. Graham Brown on Thursday night. Also taking the stage were The Greenhorns, a regional bluegrass band, the New Outlaws band from Tenne?ssee and several other guest performers.
Attendance at Wednesday?s show was estimated at 110 with about 140 gathering for Thurs?day night.
?(Bucky) was such a good entertainer, T. Graham Brown was fantastic, the New Outlaws we thought were really good,? Steketee said. ?All the entertainers were fantastic.?
A few challenges
Even with the organizational effort of volunteers, the week didn?t pass without challenges.
?We knew we weren?t going to get a very big crowd Wednesday night, so we used that opportunity to set up all our check points and all our parking,? Steketee said.
?Everyone had their task; there were a lot of people standing around doing nothing, but we learned where the problems were. By Thursday night, we had solved an awful lot of problems.?
Preparation for the Friday night show generated debate between technicians and musicians, but the issues were resolved in time for Covington to take the stage on schedule.
?You hear stories of how these things happen, and it sure did,? Steketee said.
In the end, the low turnout was the only ?problem? remaining. The event was underwritten significantly by Shawmar Oil Co. of Marion, and numerous local businesses contributed ?generously? as well, according to Steketee.
Even so, gate revenue was far from sufficient to cover the estimated $40,000 in expenses, let alone generate funds for building a training center for the firefighters.
?We got hammered,? Steketee said.
This was the first year the concert series was tied with the county fair, but the fifth year the MCFCA has tried to combine fundraising for firefighters with an entertainment package for the public.
Jim Cloutier, president of Shawmar Oil and part of the event?s fundraising committee, said that?s been the goal of organizers from the start.
?What we?re trying to accomplish here is two birds with one stone,? he said. ?No. 1, the firefighters need this training facility. No. 2, we need to get some entertainment around here for folks.?
Cloutier added that if the only goal was to build the training center, it could already could have been fully funded by applying Shawmar?s contributions directly to that project.
?But they?re trying to accomplish their goal as well as give something back to the community by having folks come out here and enjoy some first-class entertainment at a reasonable price,? Cloutier said.
?It just kind of hurts that people won?t come out and support a good cause like this.?
Cloutier said a Bucky Coving?ton concert in Wichita probably would cost $100 a ticket. Fire Jam 2009 asked $20 for a Covington ticket?and only $25 for a three-night pass.
?Because this is a benefit for the firefighters, these (entertainers) are cutting their prices for us,? Cloutier said.
In addition to an economical ticket, entertainers at Fire Jam 2009 performed almost literally within arm?s length of the fans.
?I?ll guarantee you, had they gone to Wichita to see Bucky, they wouldn?t have gotten within 200 yards of him,? Cloutier said. ?Here, they were able to stand right there and they could have counted the hairs on his face.?
Analyzing the results
Organizers and volunteers speculated on what kept spectators away, ranging from the bad economy to the committee?s decision not to allow the consumption of alcohol.
The fact that this was the first time the event has been linked to the fair may have been a major factor.
Steketee said: ?There was a great crowd at the demo derby (on Saturday)?and why were they there? Demo derbies are fun, but it?s the fact that it?s there every year and you make plans to go.
?That?s what we?re going to try to achieve, to make it that this is part of the fair,? he added. ?Hopefully, people will hear what great entertainers T. Graham Brown and Bucky Covington were, and the caliber of acts that we?re planning on getting, so people will make plans to come to the fair and the concerts and support Fire Jam.?
The planning group will be meeting soon to begin work on Fire Jam 2010.
?There?s no doubt we?re going to give it a try again,? Cloutier said. ?What I?d like is to get some feedback from the people. If they?re not coming, why? Is it the money? Is it the entertainment? What do they want to see??
Lowering ticket prices might be an option, but Cloutier said in the end, the event?s primary purpose is to raise funds to support the county?s volunteer fire departments.
For him, it?s become a personal mission.
?These guys have saved our bacon several times out here, and the firefighters were always kind of a pet project of my dad,? Cloutier said. ?I?ve just kind of carried on that tradition and kind of expanded it.
?These guys put their lives on the line?and they?re just volunteers. They?re doing this to help the community. They?ve got jobs to work, too, but, by golly, when the bell rings they?re there.
?That?s why we want to support these folks.?