It’s been 44 years since 400,000 people descended on Max Yasgur’s dairy farm in upstate New York, making history with the Woodstock Festival.
Now, Virginia is preparing for its own outdoor rock event - one that could swamp rural Nelson County or charm visitors and locals alike. The Interlocken Festival set for September 5th through the 8th on an estate halfway between Charlottesville and Lynchburg.
As you drive through the fields of Oak Ridge, mid-way between Charlottesville and Lynchburg, you can’t help but marvel at the mountain views and the sheer size of the property. There’s an elegant old home and a race track used to train some of the 200 thoroughbreds owned by 19th century financier Thomas Fortune Ryan, also known as the Sphynx of Wall Street.
There are barns and other farm buildings, a power plant, a pond and a train station that was used, exclusively by Ryan and his associates.
“This rail station is a pre-civil war station. It’s one of the few left, because it’s made out of stone, so it wasn’t burned when the confederates went south. It was restored by Thomas Ryan for his really nice train car - two actually, one with a butler and his chef, and the other for his staff that had offices and sleeper cars - that kind of thing.”
Dave Frey is a modern-day entrepreneur who learned the art of concert promotion from Bill Graham and managed several bands before moving from New York to Charlottesville. Here, he and a partner began searching for a site where they could host a big, outdoor festival.
"I’d been out to Washington State, Florida , New York - I’d been all over the country, and then here it is in my own back yard."
He’s booked Jimmy Cliff, the String Cheese Incident, Government Mule, the Warren Hayes Band, Keller and the Kiels and John Fogarty, who will perform some of his hits from Credence Clearwater Revival with a new band - Widespread Panic. Frey says he’s excited about them all.
“I gotta’ say I’m most excited about Neil Young and Crazy Horse. They’re just such a great band. He’s unpredictable, but always great. You never know what he’s going to pull off. He leaves everything on the stage, and I’m very excited about the artists’ interactions, that we’ve encouraged , that are going to happen.”
But when it comes to organizing the event, which could triple the population of Nelson County, bringing in 40,000 people, Frey wants no surprises. He’s working closely with a half dozen government agencies.
“There’s VDOT, state Police, county police, EMS, Fire, there’s also the ABC, there’s the Planning and Permits Department and the Economic Development and Tourism Department here in Nelson County.”
He’ll bring in medical teams, food and a good supply of portable toilets.
“The department of health calls for one porta potty per hundred people. I feel that it’s worth the investment to have more, because what I’ve found is the more porta potties there are, the more people drink and the more people drink, the more money you make.”
And to protect the drinking public from itself, he plans extensive fencing of the property and the use of security devices that were not around when Woodstock made the scene.
“There’s RFID technology now on a bracelet where you can pretty much ID somebody, exactly where they are at any given time at a show. Yes, it’s a little Big Brother like perhaps, but it’s made things a lot easier and safer and faster. And nobody will get lost. We just had a meeting about that, because there are all these trails here. Camp Jeep cut some 40 acres of trails into the property when they did the Jeep events here, and people have gotten pretty lost on these trails.”
Camp Jeep was a promotional event staged by Chrysler to let thousands of urban drivers take full advantage of their four-wheel drive. Rhonda Holland, the current owner of Oak Ridge, has hosted six of those gatherings, along with weddings, corporate picnics and more.
“We have had several Civil War re-enactments. We did a Rendezvous, and that involved 5,000 people for nine days dressed up as Williamsburg gentlemen, fur traders and Indians."
Right, now for three days there will be a lot of sound surrounding you. Are you planning to move out or hang out here and hope for the best? "Are you kidding? I will be right here! Oak Ridge is a huge estate, but still there’s a hospitality aspect to this, and part of our job was always to make sure everybody’s having a great time.”
And the neighbors appear cautiously optimistic. Mark Furlow is the priest at Trinity Episcopal Church, and Esther Larkin is a parishioner.
"I think it’s a good thing. There’s a ministry and mission opportunity, and we want to invite people to come to Trinity and be a part of what we do. I’m concerned, but I’m excited too, because I think it will be a huge benefit to the county.”
Promoter Dave Frey has arranged for the church to host AA meetings, pledges donations to the local food bank and is promising a thousand short-term jobs for local folks.
“Y’know everything from electricians to landscapers to guys who can drive bulldozers, to cone heads - y’know people running the parking lot, security, food vendors -everything!”
But long-time Nelson County resident Jerry Doll has his doubts.
“We’ve had instances before where we’ve have Kenny Chesney and things like that here, where traffic was backed up halfway to Charlottesville. As a matter of fact, I live off 29, and I was kind of trapped there the last time.”
Which is where that train station comes in. Dave Frey says he should be able to shuttle people from Charlottesville to avoid closing down area roads, although talks with the railroad are taking their time.
“Amtrak runs on this line - the Crescent line runs, and also the Lynchburg to Boston line. So they’re already going by here. Yeah -- it would just be a matter of them stopping, which sounds so simple and yet turns out to be complicated . Where’s Jesse James when you need him?"
So it probably won’t happen in 2013 - but Frey hopes to make this an annual event, and eventually he figures concertgoers will ride the rails to rural Nelson County. In the mean time, he says, plans for this event fit nicely with the kind of economic development the county says it wants.
“They don’t really want to increase the population. They don’t want to bring in a lot of development. I get the sense that they want people to come here, spend their money, have a good time and leave.”
But first they have to get here - and Frey says he’s already sold half the tickets at prices ranging from $200-$600 for the four-day event. Most of those planning to come are older people from out of state, but once nearby universities are back in session, he expects a rush of sales from a younger generation of fans.