News Column

Rain can't dampen fervor for Jackson

August 23, 2014

By Jeff Branscome, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

Aug. 24--Thousands turned out for country music star Alan Jackson's concert in Fredericksburg on Saturday night despite the soggy weather.

The rain had stopped by the time a WFLS radio DJ stepped onto the stage a little after 7 p.m. and jokingly proclaimed, "I'm Alan Jackson!" The crowd didn't boo, but they didn't exactly cheer either.

Then Spotsylvania County Sheriff Roger Harris addressed the revelers, asking them to please use "common sense" and get a designated driver if need be.

And he took the opportunity to tell what may have been the largest audience in Celebrate Virginia Live's history that he would be running for re-election next year.

But the crowd didn't seem too interested in local politics at the moment. They were there for Jackson, who stepped onto the stage to cheers at 8:30 p.m. and asked the audience, "How ya'll doing tonight?" before launching into the song "Gone Country."

It started raining again shortly after Jackson took the stage, but the weather didn't seem to dampen the crowd's enthusiasm.

Many had been waiting for hours, smoking cigarettes and drinking beer.

A lady at the outdoor venue's will-call tent said it was the biggest Celebrate Virginia Live crowd she'd seen since she started working there five years ago.

She said she'd heard the show had drawn 8,000 people--even more than last year's Hank Williams Jr. concert.

Kathy McLaurin of Stafford County said she wasn't surprised at all by the turnout.

"I'm actually shocked that he's playing here," she said.

So what's the appeal?

"He's just a down-to-earth, good ol' country boy," McLaurin said.

At one point, the line to get in the venue stretched about a quarter-mile, all the way to the end of Gordon W. Shelton Boulevard.

Spotsylvania resident Erik Swan, who found himself at the back of the line, said he attended a Celebrate Virginia concert last year that wasn't nearly as crowded.

"It's interesting that you have such a big name come to a small venue," said Swan, who was there with three others. "It's great to see the turnout."

He said he became a Jackson fan just three weeks ago, when he heard some of the singer's music by chance.

Spotsylvania resident Donna Lantis and a few friends people-watched on a grassy median across from the venue's entrance. They planned to relax until the line died down.

Lantis, whose birthday was Friday (she declined to give her age), said she'd like to see the venue developed a bit more. More shelter from the rain would have been nice, she noted.

Still, she said she was glad to see a big act come to the area.

"Fredericksburg is such a thriving and growing town," Lantis said. "They really need something like this."

Saturday evening's show was not the first time Jackson has performed in the area.

In 2012, he held a concert at Louisa High's parking lot in front of 6,000 people to raise money for the school, which was severely damaged in an earthquake the previous year. The show raised $152,500.

After singing a couple of songs Saturday, Jackson revved up the crowd by telling them to "do whatever--sit back and laugh, dance, have a drink."

"I always tell people that I'm gonna play you some country music and write songs about life, love and heartbreak and drinking and dancing and having a good time, and dying and crying--all the stuff that makes up country music," Jackson said.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402;


(c)2014 The Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, Va.)

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Source: Free Lance-Star (Fredericksburg, VA)

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