For the past two decades here in West Michigan the premiere country music radio station has held a large (which has grown into huge) outdoor country music festival. The event began as a one day show, and then several years back morphed into a two day event. This year's was #19, and the second year in a row it was to be held at the 131 MotorSports Park in Martin, MI. Attendance for the day we went was over 60,000!
^All credit for this pano to B-93^
I can give you a run-down of the event. We ended up going on day one, Saturday June 18th. The lineup for that day went as follows:
-Brian Lorente and Usual Suspects (local band)
-Jane Dear Girls
-Aaron Lewis (from rock band Staind)
The schedule for the day was evenly laid out. They were going to begin letting cars into the parking lot at 8am, open the venue gates for people to go claim their seats at 10am, and music was to start at noon. This is the second year they were at this venue, and my review stands as an independent run-down of how things operated. Also, I had not been to 131 MotorSports Park for any event previously, so this is a clean-slate observation.
The girlfriend and I decided to leave for Martin about 7am, and we quickly arrived about twenty minutes later at our exit South of Grand Rapids. Immediatly when we got off the highway we realized there was already a back-up of cars lining up to get in. So, we waited in that line with them, the line already being a mile-long from the gates at 7:30. There is only one-way in and out of the facility, down a small, two-lane country road. We were promptly let in 25 minutes later, at a cost of $20 per vehicle. Parking was simple and hastle free. It being about 8am, we had a good two hours to wait in line for the gates to open. A friend had saved a spot for us near the front, so we calmly strolled over to our saved piece of realestate for the next 120 minutes. As we waited, the crowds grew bigger and continued to push forward cramming everyone together. Then it began to get rather warm in line, even before 10am. With the crowds growing and getting very pushy, it would not have hurt the staff organizers to open the gates 20-30 minutes early to allow the congestion to ease. However, they waited until exactly 10am to open the "bottle cap", and the sprint for the best lawn space was on.
When it comes to concessions, you aren't allowed to bring any food or drink of your own in. You may however bring your own empty water bottle(s) as they have the National Guard bring in water trucks for people to help themselves to for free. Food and alcohol are a done on a "ticket" system, where you line up to buy tickets and then use those tickets to purchase food/drinks. Prices are moderate, but not economical either. They had half the hard-stand restrooms at the facility open to the public inside the gates. However they made all of those restrooms female only facilities. Very gentlemanly of them. We males had to use the porta-johns.
We enjoyed the music, ate a little food, and got lots of sun. With virtually no breeze, and temps near 90, we began to bake. Thank goodness for sunblock!
Here's where my rating system comes into play. It's a simple pass/okay/fail of bulletpoints.
*Price - PASS. Tickets are free, so for the number of bands you see, $20 parking is not unreasonable.
*Location/Venue - PASS. 131 MotorSports Park has a huge plot of land, and it's the largest plot of land the event has ever been held on. Inside the complex there is lots of room to roam, and there are concrete pathways as you can see in the photo above that allow for easier movement than had been experienced at the event's previous two locations (Ionia Fair Grounds and Allegan Fair Ground).
*Parking - FAIL. Despite there being lots and lots of parking immediatly off US-131, there is just that one entrance/exit. The bottleneck is so severe that my girlfriend and I left early at the end of the night (missing the last act, Eric Church) to avoid the crowds. We're happy we did, as friends of ours who left shortly after 8pm were still stuck in the parking lot at 10:30 that night, two hours after they got to their cars. Not only that, but the small entrance forced cars to be backed up all down US-131 for a long time on Saturday, creating a logistics nightmare for traffic.
*Concessions - OKAY. Prices aren't too bad, and are a lot better than a concert at Van Andel Arena or a Tigers game. However the ticket system is a complete failure. It creates a logistical nightmare with a crowd that size and people begin to get impatient. If you are going to have a "ticket" system at concessions, you need to also have more ticket counters for people to purchase them than were available that day. Apparently they did a nice ammendment to the system, on Sunday they were allowing people to buy tickets when they got in line before the gates opened, thus hopefully easing the stress.
*Water - OKAY. The "water buffalos" from the National Guard are a wonderful touch. However there are only TWO of them for a crowd of 60,000 during a 10 hour span of time. That creates long lines. There is no reason with all the room they have they could not have at least four or five more tanks in circulation.
*Restrooms - OKAY. Lines for restrooms weren't that obscene, even for the women. They could have used a couple dozen more porta-johns however, they have the space.
*Music/Lineup - PASS. Yes, there have been better lineups for acts at Birthday Bash, but I was satisfied overall with the set we had. Besides, the talent on stage is totally up to personal taste.
Overall I would give the event a solid letter-grade of B. In other words I definitly plan to attend again in the future!