Filling the grandstands

Thursday, September 6, 2012
Part 3 of 4 The Clay County Fair is known as the "World's Greatest County Fair." This four-part series will explore the factors and preparations that help it keep that title.

The first show at the Clay County Fair grandstand will get underway at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, but the lineup has been in the works for nearly a year.

Clay County Fair manager Jeremy Parsons began the process at the International Entertainment Buyers Association annual conference in October, when nearly 1,000 members met in Nashville.

"It's just a chance to meet with agents and get the first glimpse into who's touring and who may be available," Parsons said. "The process continues back and forth until we have them booked."

Parsons began that process with Casting Crowns at the IEBA event, and in November, the band was booked for the Sept. 15 slot.

On the other side of the spectrum, Saturday's lineup of Easton Corbin and Leann Rimes was not announced until May 31.

Parsons noted that show is still a go, despite news that Rimes checked herself into a treatment facility for stress and anxiety.

"We wish her well and hope she gets the treatment she needs," Parsons said. "She made it clear she would still fulfill her weekend concert contracts."

Dave Potratz has been reviewing entertainment contracts for nearly 40 years as the fair's grandstand superintendent.

"Once Jeremy gets the acts booked and we get the contracts, we go through them and see what we're going to need to work with on the needs side for staging and lighting and what we'll do as far as catering and so forth," Potratz said. "We make contact with them and find out when they will arrive and how many buses, trucks and people they will have."

During the fair, Potratz's nine backstage crew members arrive at 6:30 a.m. and stay until tear-down is complete, which can range from midnight to 2:45 a.m. Mitch Stevenson's stage crew of 17 to 20 members have a similarly long day.

Grandstand entertainment tickets are available at the box office, online at, by mail and by calling 855-339-2472. "Across the board, all the grandstand shows are selling well and selling equally," Clay County Fair manager Jeremy Parsons said. (Photo by Randy M. Cauthron)

"At 9 or 10 in the morning, we start loading in," Potratz said. "We could be loading in between one and three semis of equipment. We get it set up and roll the stage down the concrete at about 2:30 p.m. It takes 20 to 30 minutes to roll it and another hour-and-a-half to set everything in place. We get the sound checks for the main artist and the opener. They're done by 6:30 p.m. when the doors open."

According to Potratz, the key to putting on a good show is to have crew members with defined roles.

"Everyone in the crew has a certain area they're responsible for," Potratz said. "We go through what's going to happen on each day. You have to be able to adjust in case something happens. Having a good framework and a good plan as far as what you think will take place allows you to adjust if you need to."

With an outdoor show, weather causes the bulk of those adjustments.

"Indoors, you have a set environment," Potratz said. "Outdoors, you can run into weather and situations like that."

While weather has not caused a show to be canceled during Potratz's tenure, it has shortened and altered shows.

In one instance, the Oak Ridge Boys had to leave stage before singing "Elvira." In another instance, Brad Paisley and Chris Cagle were forced to go acoustic when crews could not get their equipment to the stage due to muddy conditions. Since then, the path for the stage has been paved.

Potratz is thankful for that improvement, as well as for a stage that is nearly 1,000 square feet larger than the previous stage.

Rick Springfield is among the grandstand acts at the 2012 Clay County Fair. He will take the stage with Air Supply on Tuesday. (Photo submitted)

The budget for filling that stage is $500,000, in addition to $100,000 in free entertainment throughout the grounds.

Parsons is pleased with ticket sales, following a 2011 concert lineup that set the bar high.

"Obviously, last year we had two huge shows with Big Time Rush and Alan Jackson," Parsons said. "While we haven't seen that kind of number for this year, I think, consistently across the board, our sales have been really good."

"Of course we hope all shows have the potential to sell out," Parsons continued. "There are good seats available for all shows. Ticket sales are good, but there are still good seats available."

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