County OKs Willamette country fest

The Linn County Board of Commissioners approved 3-0 an outdoor assembly permit on July 15 for up to 8,000 people for the Willamette Country Music Festival, scheduled for Aug. 28-30 at a farm between Brownsville and Crawfordsville.

The event features a lineup of Concrete Cowboys, Chris Young, Emerson Drive, Taryn Cross, Derek Sholl, Rickie Lynne, Jason Michael Carroll, Keith Anderson, Alexis Ebert, Amy Clawson, Lonestar and Neal McCoy.

The commissioners had previously turned down a request for the permit 2-1 on June 17 over concerns about problems at last year’s festival and incomplete information in the application. Will Tucker voted to approve while John Lindsey and Chairman Roger Nyquist voted to deny the permit.

The Board of Commissioners wanted the festival to have an independent operations manager who can make decisions on site and to address access issues that had concerned the Brownsville fire chief.

“They turned it down and asked for a couple of additional documents,” said Anne Hankins, vice president of operations for the festival. “We have the same common goals the commissioners do, and that is the health and safety of those involved.”

The first Willamette Country Music Festival was held in July 2008 on a farm northeast of the city. This year’s event will be located on a new property, the one the festival had hoped to use last year, Hankins said. It is located on a 300-acre parcel owned by Reed and Robyn Anderson, three miles east of Gap Road.

“First-year events are definitely a learning experience,” Hankins said. “We had a couple of hiccups. I feel we have definitely learned from those hiccups.”

At the June 17 hearing vendors complained about the quality of facilities and services at the event and one, Jim Moran of the Oregon Beverage Co. of Salem, told commissioners that he was concerned that alcohol sales and service rules were broken and he voiced concerns about the health and safety of people attending the festival.

Peter LaPonte, director of Sweet Home’s Oregon Jamboree, testified at that hearing that he was concerned that the Willamette festival is very similar to the Jamboree, and questioned whether the valley is large enough for two events. He said the Willamette festival could have a “severe” impact on the Jamboree.

Since the June hearing, there have been some additions and changes to the application, Nyquist said at Wednesday’s hearing.

Among those changes, said Mike Adams, county counsel, the event has hired an experienced operations manager.

The county has received information about the festival’s liquor license and a resume from the operations manager, Lawrence Van Hoof, said Rick Partipilo, director of Linn County Health Department.

“My basic goal is to protect the county, protect the festival,” Van Hoof told the board.

Tucker said that he wanted someone who would make decisions based on safety, to look after the interests of the vendors and based on what he heard about last year, see that the event is the best it can be for the attendees, artists and others involved.

“The interests I want you to serve is not how this is going to impact the pocketbook,” Tucker said, adding that he understood that money is at the bottom line.

Van Hoof said he has done festivals before and is capable of making necessary hard-line decisions.

Van Hoof is working at the festival without pay, according to Nyquist.

The board had concerns about an access point off Courtney Creek Drive, but the new application indicated that Highway 228 would be used for access, and the fire chief indicated by letter that Highway 228 was preferable.

As long as the plans are followed, Partipilo said, there should be no issues with adjoining timber property.

Undersheriff Bruce Riley said the Sheriff’s Office’s concerns have been addressed.

“We feel comfortable with what’s going on,” Riley said.

The property already meets Oregon Department of Transportation requirements for access, Hankins said.

“From my perspective, the application is more complete,” Nyquist said.

As conditions on the permit, Nyquist said it would not be issued until liability insurance is purchased. He also outlined a condition that if Van Hoof was unable to fulfill his duties, he must be replaced by someone with similar experience. Tucker added that the application must be submitted for an event next year prior to ticket sales and contracting with sponsors.

“I am in no way in favor of this,” Lindsey said. “I have been present at concerns where people have died because of poor planning. I keep looking at this map thinking this is the wrong piece of property to have 4,000 people on repeatedly.”

Nevertheless, he agreed to approve the permit this year, he said.

“I would say you should not hesitate for a second in the event you need help to call the Sheriff’s Office, or call the Road Department if you have any indication something’s getting out of hand,” Nyquist said. “Don’t wait for things to get to crisis levels. We don’t want there to be a problem out there any more than you do.”

Hankins said problems have been solved.

“I think people will see the amount of changes we’ve made have been incredible,” she said, noting the event has new partners and signed a long-term contract with Bi-Mart as sponsor.

For more on the festival, visit http://www.willamettecountrymusicfest.com.

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