Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wagon Wheel Festival preview

My interview originally appeared in the Californian newspaper and can be viewed here:
Dwight Yoakam photo courtesy of Just Cruzin' Productions

Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival
Gates open at 12:45 p.m. Nov. 13-14
The Diamond, 500 Diamond Drive, Lake Elsinore
$65 daily, $100 weekend (general admission); $150-$175 weekend (VIP)
951-245-4487, 951-656-0862

The second annual Wagon Wheel Country Music Festival rolls back into Lake Elsinore this weekend with superior traction.

Last year's event featured some well-known acts (Travis Tritt, Tracy Lawrence, Sammy Kershaw, Tracy Byrd) and popular upstarts (Jason Aldean, Julianne Hough) performing over three days. The 2010 edition boasts even brighter star wattage from Dierks Bentley, Dwight Yoakam, Lee Ann Womack and Sara Evans.
According to organizer Mike Davidson of Riverside-based promoter Just Cruzin' Productions, concertgoers said they'd rather see more money spent on bigger talent.

"We took polls. A lot of the acts we booked (this time) were based on who the fans wanted to see," he said. Now a two day festival, "everything is tightened up and will take place inside the stadium. We had it spread outside with the second stage and vendors there (in 2009). We've learned from that. People just want to stay inside. So we've only got one stage now. It's less acts, but more quality ---- definitely a more focused show than what we had."

Other changes involved the vendors and where people can watch the live sets.

"We found out the vendors didn't get the business they wanted outside the stadium," Davidson said. "We've cut them down by about two-thirds. Also, general admission (ticketholders were) only allowed in the stands. This year, everybody is allowed on the field to get close to the stage."

Those camping onsite in two specially designated RV areas (with and without electrical outlets) can purchase $25 tickets to a Friday night kickoff party including food and live music. Meet & Greet tickets are also available.

Although the Route 66 Rendezvous and L.A. County Fair took place on the same weekend as Wagon Wheel in '09, Davidson said moving the event from September to November was mainly due to the extreme temperatures.

"The heat last year just killed us, work wise, ticket wise, everything," he said. "We didn't want to compete with Route 66 ---- not because we didn't believe in our show, but because we wanted to stay way from other events happening that month."

Davidson anticipates a daily attendance of 10,000 people, up from approximately 6,000 in 2009.
"Based on ticket sales, we think we're going to reach that," he said. "They're coming from all over the place ---- L.A., Orange County and Ventura. About 50 percent come from the Inland Empire. Being the second year, people know about it a little better. We found that almost everybody across the board had a good time in 2009."

VIP tickets include a reserved seat and private section with its own bars, food areas and restrooms.
"We also have it set up lounge style where it's going to have bar style tables; people can mingle there," Davidson said.

Charity is among the festival components as well. Some ticket proceeds go to the Loma Linda Veteran's Hospital, another way Just Cruzin' has continued to give back over the past dozen years. "We've raised close to a million dollars for them," Davidson said. "A big portion of our money goes there. We always support our veterans heavily."

On Saturday morning, singer Jimmy Wayne is sponsoring a 5K walk in conjunction with his Meet Me Halfway organization that helps raise awareness about issues facing homeless youth and children's foster care. It starts at the Lake Elsinore Hotel & Casino (20930 Malaga Road) and ends at the stadium. Wayne completed a 1,700-mile walk across six states this past summer.

"Jimmy will be doing various fundraising throughout the weekend," Davidson said. "While he's onstage, we're going to auction off a guitar. All the money goes to the local Boys and Girls Club in the Lake Elsinore area."
A live charity auction with guitars and memorabilia signed by all the artists, will take place prior to Dwight Yoakam's Sunday evening closing set.

If Wagon Wheel is a continued success, it could help put Lake Elsinore on the map as a live music destination.

"We thought the area didn't have a lot of entertainment going on, as far as concerts and wanted to bring something else to the Inland Empire," Davidson said. "Coachella (Valley) has Stagecoach. We want (this part) of the Inland Empire to have a big festival and be recognized in the country music scene."

Is there room for two country-based festivals in the IE?
"Absolutely," Davidson said. "We're not that far way from Stagecoach, distance-wise. But we think this area needs something to be recognized in the country music scene."

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