Rapids Jam: A chance to revitalize Carolina Crossroads

Published 1:36 pm Tuesday, November 16, 2010

ROANOKE RAPIDS – The potential revitalization of the outdoor venue at Carolina Crossroads here comes with new owners, a new name and new event, a three day country music festival with some of the top names in the industry.

Gil and Liz Cunningham, who bought the venue, now called Festival Park at Carolina Crossroads, announced with Elizabeth Branham, Rapids Jam, which will be June 16 through 18 at the outdoor venue. Names of the entertainers will be released on November 30 and tickets will go on sale December 3.

During a press conference Tuesday morning, the organizers discussed overall plans for the festival and its potential economic effect on the area.

“This is just like Christmas, I’m so excited,” Branham, the president of Rapids Jam, said before introducing the Cunninghams, who she described as members of her family. “Gil and Liz have looked at the Roanoke Valley for a couple of years. We believe this will be a tremendous impact for the economy of the area and the area of Carolina Crossroads.”

Branham explained to reporters, the public and officials, the Cunninghams, along with a partner in Kansas, bought the venue. “We’re so excited to have them as members of the community and as taxpayers.”

Branham said Rapids Jam will be an annual event and the Cunninghams, talent buyers, put on these festivals in the Midwest and Canada. Rapids Jam, will be the flagship event of Festival Park but the venue will be open to other promoters and producers. “I am tremendously thrilled. They have been looking at this for quite some time.”

The event has the potential to be one of the premier outdoor concerts on the East Coast, because they are not as common here, Branham said.

“We’re excited to be a part of the Roanoke Valley and pay taxes,” Liz Cunningham said. “We see the potential of it. We see the potential it has for putting the Roanoke Valley on the map.”

Working with Branham and Lori Medlin, of the Halifax Convention and Visitors Bureau, Liz Cunningham said, “We felt we had found the right market. We’re very excited to be a part of this community.”

She said she believes Rapids Jam will be, “The summer’s best entertainment value,” with the opportunity to see 20 national acts for as low as $99.

There will be upfront seating as well as general admission and standing room only opportunities. The festival has the potential to fill hotel rooms from Rocky Mount to Emporia, Liz Cunningham said.

The organizers will add a campsite to the venue while working with the existing RV park near the concert site. Campers will bring people to the concert who buy gas and eat at restaurants, she said. “We’re going to open the gates late to give people an opportunity to see the great things in this area.”

The current stage will be torn down and replaced with one similar to those at Metallica and Hannah Montana shows. “The stage will also have a thrust so the entertainers can get close to the audience, Liz Cunningham said.

Gill Cunningham explained Neste Event Marketing is primarily in the festival business, putting on eight in the United States and three in Canada.

The Cunninghams specialize in putting on events in underserved areas which will attract people from larger areas.

Gil Cunningham said Rapids Jam will include artists at the top to emerging artists. Other festivals they have produced have drawn headliners like Tim McGraw, Keith Urban, Lady Antebellum and Kenny Chesney. He expects Rapids Jam will have at least two bona fide headliners to begin with. The success of the event, he said, will help attract other promoters. “You could do other festivals, major festivals. I think the opportunity here is unlimited. The support has been tremendous.”

Liz Cunningham said the goal is to draw 20,000 each day to Rapids Jam. The economic effects of similar festivals is between $1.7 million to $3.7 million, she said.

Branham said there will be monthly update meetings on Rapids Jam.

Medlin said, “We have always believed in this location. I can’t thank you enough for being here.”

She said the local convention and visitors bureau will work with the state on promoting the event and will establish a satellite bureau at the festival. “We will let people know about Sylvan Heights and the Canal Museum. We are creating special web pages and will be marketing the event 12 months of the year. I think you’re going to see new business. It’s very good timing.”

Lance Martin is the editor of rrspin.com.