There’s a lot of work involved in setting up the Downtown Country Jam, whether it’s planning the event, booking performers, or setting up the physical stage.
Jim Reed, President of Shellabration Inc., highlighted the time and energy it takes to organize events like tonight’s concert.
“It’s a multi-year process from start to finish,” he said. “And I like to tell people that nothing we do is rocket science. There’s nothing that requires a degree in organic chemistry or, you know, a degree in physics. It’s just a lot of tasks .All connected in a daisy chain.”
Reed said the planning process for this event began about a year ago with finding a workable date and bringing artists together to perform. Speaking of the team behind the organization of the event, Reed said: “We have a board of 16 unpaid volunteer members who provide leadership and are engaged. The crew we have I would against any special event. They are detail oriented, professional, reliable and which is cool, so as we have this core of volunteers, but we also have tasks, it is more difficult to find people or skills to do lighting, staging, things like that. So what you see here as a cross between entrepreneurs, volunteers doing what they can, and then also people who have the skills to do, you know, lighting design and things like that .
The team was quickly assembling the stage for Friday’s event. They worked together as a well-functioning team. They connected support beams to support the stage while others unloaded equipment.
“It’s unique this year that we use a hydraulic stage as opposed to a truss stick where everything is built and bolted together,” said Reed. “It’s much easier this year. This hydraulic step will literally cut into probably four hours because usually we were building everything, one piece at a time. So this trailer once parked, the roof started going up and the stage went down, and then we just added it. So you see the year it’s much faster and more efficient than it would have been in any previous year. And it’s the first time we’ve used a hydraulic stage.
Reed went on to describe the physical setup as “the production’s dark, unsexy underbelly.”
To elaborate, Reed explained, “So when people come, you know, we dress everything up front, but when you look under the stage, everything that’s buried, the rolling boxes, the boxes, you know this and that, if you actually come and look from behind the stage, it’s not pretty, but at night when it’s dark and the lights come on, it’s so pretty It’s such a dichotomy between behind the scenes and what that the audience actually sees.
Another aspect of assembly that Reed talked about was the materials used. Reed erected all of the fencing, tenting and covering mechanisms as well as larger infrastructure like generators and light towers.
Ted Bodensteiner, the Vice President of Shellabration Inc, joined the conversation to talk more about the systems they have for putting these shows together.
“I definitely take all the little nuances and play Ying to Jim’s Yang on making decisions,” said Bodensteiner.
Bodensteiner and Reed began discussing how they are incorporating the experiences of organizing these events to improve future events. One specific thing Bodensteiner brought up was working on an event in Nebraska where they lit up portable toilets.
Reed elaborated on this saying, “I’m going to focus on porta pots, as crazy as that sounds. So he saw an idea. We plagiarized it, we did it here. And in the reviews we receive on Facebook. In fact, we’ve had a number of women comment that they felt safer and cleaner because our porta potties were lit.
“No detail is spared” said Bodensteiner. “It’s all in the details and we try to get the details right.”
Reed called this process of evolution “continuous improvement” and said that “Whenever we do something, we always look at it, you know, at the granular level, and it’s that attention to detail.”
They highlighted how they mark the floor with the spacing available for people as another detail they are trying to perfect. All this also showed how many facets of these events they must take into account. They must focus on the entertainment of the public, the needs of the artist and not forget public safety.
While talking about safety, Reed said, “We’re going to have in the grid, 12 uniformed officers, we’ll have six fire and rescue EMTs from Fort Dodge, and we’ll have law enforcement officers on site in each of the two buildings.”
Red added, “We do what it takes to make sure it’s a fun, enjoyable and safe environment for people.”
Bodensteiner and Reed added that they were installing concrete barriers to block crowd cars.
One aspect of this show that differs from some of their other set ups is that of the location. Being across the street from downtown adds a level of ease when settling in. Bodensteiner explains that “It’s easier because the coating is easier to wash or scrub in the fields, while it’s much more resistant on the pavement. Also, we have to worry less about playing with the grass.
Bodensteiner also said that buildings require less work when it comes to putting up fences.
The one aspect of setting up these events that plays a major role is that of the community, according to Bodensteiner. These events would not be possible without the support of the community and the volunteers who choose to help physically. These events take a lot of work throughout the year, but it’s worth it to provide the community with a wonderful night.