The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

The Greenbrier Classic

July 4, 2012

Safety emphasized at Classic concert venue

FAIRLEA — Preparation for the Greenbrier Classic Concert Series (GCCS) barely hiccupped when a powerful storm called a “derecho” gouged a path through Greenbrier County over the weekend.

“The GCCS hasn’t missed a beat,” producer Gary Bowman said Tuesday morning. “The stage is set up, the artists are en route. It’s all on schedule.”

When the storm swept through Fairlea just before 8 p.m. Friday, Bowman had already cleared most workers from the area around the immense stage anchoring the open-air amphitheater where concerts will begin tonight.

“We only got an hour’s notice,” Bowman recalled. “We reacted; we were fine. We were building the stage when the storm hit, but we knew what was coming, and we were completely prepared.”

Bowman is confident those same preparations — including a 14-page emergency operations management plan — will ensure the safety of GCCS patrons, performers, staff and crew, regardless of what Mother Nature throws his way.

He said everyone in the entertainment business has become more safety conscious, particularly about outdoor events like the GCCS.

Reflecting his personal commitment to safety is Bowman’s membership in the Event Safety Alliance, an organization that is bringing together experts from various fields to promulgate standardized guidelines that will then be offered to legislators interested in drafting laws regulating the event industry.

Currently, Bowman said, many events are staged with no more regulation that the minimal amount involved in obtaining a building permit.

“Then if a temporary structure falls ...” he lets the image linger.

Bowman said he has no such fears about the 120-ton steel infrastructure that comprises the GCCS stage.

“The roof has been certified by an engineer,” he remarked. “It’s ballasted down heavily. We’ve considered what wind could do to a stage of this size.”

Given what occurred Friday at the site, perhaps the most immediately interesting facet of the safety strategy is the high wind plan, which specifies actions to be taken by organizers and staff at each level of wind velocity from 20 miles per hour to more than 68 mph.

An evacuation plan is in place, should it be required. Patrons would be directed to evacuation routes by information relayed on massive video screens attached to the stage backdrop, Bowman noted.

People who proceed from the amphitheater to their cars could then monitor WJLS 99.5 FM radio to receive updates on the weather and notification of the “all-clear.” The West Virginia Building on the state fairgrounds just beyond the concert site would also come into play as an alternate shelter for concert-goers, if needed, Bowman said.

“You can’t control the weather, but you can control preparation and reaction,” Bowman said. “We’re here to do the right thing.”

A meteorology team — called the Severe Weather Emergency Team (SWET) — has been assembled to monitor weather conditions during the concerts and the hours leading up to each event.

The decision to evacuate would be made by The Greenbrier’s director of entertainment, Jeff Bryant, Bowman noted.

“My job as producer is to inform (Bryant) as completely and thoroughly as I can,” Bowman said. “The team members will feed me information, and I’ll relay it to him.”

Bowman expects crowds for each of the three GCCS events to be between 35,000 and 50,000, based on past years’ attendance numbers.

Tonight’s concerts will open at 7:30 p.m. with The August, the winner of The Greenbrier’s Got Country Class competition. Country superstar Toby Keith and special guest Lionel Richie will take over at 9 p.m., followed by a spectacular Independence Day fireworks display.

Friday’s concerts, starting at 7:30, will feature Rod Stewart and special guests The Fray. Saturday evening’s concert with Bon Jovi will begin at 8 p.m.

“We have water, power, food to eat, beer to drink, world-class entertainment — we feel blessed,” Bowman said. “We have a great team. We’re very good at what we do and have a ball doing it.”

— E-mail: talvey@register-herald.com

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