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For Greenbrier Classic, a concerted effort

FAIRLEA, W.Va. -- Two hundred boxes of speakers, 30 electrical generators, 100 tractor trailers, 200 LED tiles making six massive video screens, 27 versions of the same blueprint and 550 people making it all go.

Putting on a concert in the middle of a field in Greenbrier County is a big undertaking.

"When I got here, basically the only thing here was a two-inch water spigot," said Gary Bowman, who is producing the Kenny Chesney and Aerosmith concerts in conjunction with the Greenbrier Classic PGA golf tournament this weekend.

Bowman has been planning for this weekend full-time for the past 10 months. In his office are detailed blueprints of the State Fairgrounds in Fairlea, where the concerts will be held.

Those drawings have transformed, from one iteration to the next, slowly becoming more complex until they morphed into the 27th and, hopefully, final version that hangs on the wall of Bowman's trailer.

Without all that planning, a lot can go wrong.

Jeff Bryant, The Greenbrier resort's director of entertainment, said they're expecting about 25,000 people for the concerts on both Thursday and Saturday. That would make the State Fairgrounds, for two days, the sixth-largest city in West Virginia, just behind Wheeling.

Those people won't just be descending on an empty field.

They'll find a stage, 60 feet by 80 feet, with 40-foot wings, flanked by huge walls of speakers.

There are also three islands of speakers set up in the middle of the field so the music sounds just as good in back as in front.

There are 20 trailers full of portable toilets. There are 11 concession stands and 200 trashcans.

All for two days, a few hours of music.

If that wasn't enough to set up, Bowman's team has to redo it all on Friday, between the two concerts.

Chesney and Aerosmith have different requirements in their contracts, not only for their trailers and their catering, but for their lighting, sound systems and the stage itself.

The thrust, the section of the stage that extends out into the audience, has to be completely rebuilt between shows because Chesney and Aerosmith prefer different shapes.

And every time a change is made to the stage, no matter how small, it has to be run by a structural engineer who ensures that the changes are sound and don't compromise safety.

With that many people converging on a normally empty field, Bowman has to plan for every contingency.

Bowman said they have a specific security plan "for this event, at this location, this year."

In planning the event they've been in touch with all levels of law enforcement, from the local sheriff to the State Police and the Department of Homeland Security.

Interspersed throughout the crowd are people that Bowman described as WMD inspectors. They're dressed in plain clothes and don't have the authority to make arrests. But they're trained to look for packages, and anything else that looks suspicious, and are in constant contact with law enforcement.

All concertgoers are subject to hand search and search by metal detectors.

The event staff is divided into 18 different categories, from stage, video and pyrotechnics, to catering crews, ushers and security.

Potential weather emergencies -- including thunderstorms, hale and tornadoes -- are divided into 10 categories.

For each weather event, every category of crewmember has a different assigned duty or meeting place. The result is a massive 10-by-18 rubric of safety.

"This is a very safe event," Bowman said, in a bit of understatement.

And the planning doesn't stop when the concert starts.

Rock stars have a reputation as reliably unreliable, so Bowman has to be ready with on-the-fly adjustments.

"We're always getting changes on the artist level," he said. "I'm always anticipating the next element that needs to happen to put on a seamless show."

That means Bowman, an Aerosmith fan, won't really be able to get into the spirit of the concert.

"I grew up in the '70s and '80s. I had a 45 of 'Walk this Way,'" he said.

But asked if he would be able to relax and enjoy one of the bands of his childhood, Bowman had a one-word answer: "No."

Reach David Gutman at david.gutman@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5119.


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