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East Marlborough turns down request for major country concert

10/10/2017 08:42AM ● Published by J. Chambless

A three-day concert with country superstars is still taking place in August, organizers say.

By John Chambless
Staff Writer

The all-star Country Spirit USA Music Festival will be taking place somewhere in Chester County from Aug. 24 to 26, but it won't be in East Marlborough Township.

At a special meeting of the township supervisors on Oct. 9, representatives from the proposed three-day concert heard from a packed room of residents who had major concerns about traffic and safety, as well as noise from the event, which had been proposed for the Willowdale Steeplechase grounds at routes 82 and 926.

The festival, as envisioned by Alan Jacoby and Impact Entertainment, will book superstars on the caliber of Tim McGraw and Faith Hill, Toby Keith and Brad Paisley, with two stages of entertainment. The organizers have been scouting possible locations in the county for the past two years, and their first choice was the natural ampitheater of the Willowdale grounds. The company, which has successfully run a similar country music festival in California for four years, has the endorsement of the Chester County Visitors Bureau. Susan Hamley, executive director of the bureau, told the supervisors last week that the event would showcase the county's open space and attractions to a new audience of thousands of people, “and would put us on the map even more” as a destination.

Jacoby's company has been putting on large-scale events for more than 30 years, and he said the Willowdale property has many benefits, including access to Route 926 and Route 82, an ideal sloping hillside for seating, and a buffer of trees and ground to keep sound from spreading too far to nearby homes. Jacoby said he expects between 10,000 and 15,000 people per day. The music would run from 2 to 11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and from noon to 9 p.m. Sunday.

The township supervisors first heard about the event at their meeting on Oct. 2, and to give them time to examine a lengthy list of details about the concert, they asked for the special meeting on Oct. 9.

Residents of nearby communities, including Ovations at Longwood, said they objected to the noise and traffic the event would generate, particularly stretched over three nights. Several residents said that one night wouldn't be so much of a disruption. Jacoby said that having an event of this scale for only one night would not generate enough revenue to make it worthwhile.

Camping was planned for the event, and neighbors expressed concerns about people having parties after the concerts ended. Trash pickup each night was brought up, but the organizers said that pickup is done by hand, not with tractors or backhoes that could create noise after the shows ended.

“We want to be good neighbors,” Jacoby told the audience at one point. “We want this to possibly be an annual destination event in Chester County.”

One neighbor expressed doubts that the car searches planned for incoming vehicles would find hidden alcohol, drugs or firearms, and that such searches at the gate would back up traffic at the proposed entrances on routes 82 and 926.

One resident said he hears complaints about the sound of the Unionville High School Marching Band practicing at the school, so a three-day concert with a huge sound system would be that much more of a problem for residents.

One resident of Willowdale Lane said, “I've been to enough of these kinds of concerts to know what they're like. They're rowdy drunkfests.”

A resident of Traditions said, “You're asking us to give up driving our cars for three days while this is going on. That's quite a sacrifice. There are about 300 homes in Traditions alone that back up to this site.”

Hamley said that the online response to stories about the concert were “overwhelmingly positive and enthusiastic,” but the people who came to the meeting on Oct. 9 were there to voice objections.

Jim Sinclair, who owns a large farm property across the road from Willowdale, said that, as a longtime professional musician, he knows how sound can travel from outdoor events. When the Willowdale Rodeo was at the site, he said, the simple PA system could be heard “as plain as day” across nearby roads, even though the rodeo was held in the natural hollow on the property. “I can tell you, without a doubt, that this will be a terribly noisy event,” Sinclair said, adding that he doubted emergency services vehicles could quickly reach the site, and that security – especially in light of the recent mass shooting at a concert in Las Vegas – was a big concern. The site, he said, simply wasn't adequate for a concert of this scale. “I think you're trying to push a pig through the eye of needle,” he said.

After more than an hour of discussion, during which the concert organizers countered all concerns expressed by residents, the board voted unanimously to turn down the proposal. Supervisor John Sarro abstained, but said he personally had doubts about the event as well.

Hamley said during the meeting that two other sites in Chester County were likely alternate locations, but asked that they not be identified until negotiations are complete.

Supervisor Eddie Caudill told the organizers that he's a country music fan, “and I appreciate you coming here, but I'm concerned about this being three nights.”

Supervisor Christine Kimmel said, “I appreciate all that the Stroud family does. I love Willowdale, but I agree that this is too much for this site.”

Board chairman Richard Hannum told the organizers, “I think this event has a use at another location. I don't think this area fits what you're looking to do at such a magnitude. It's just not going to fit.”

Hamley said that a new location for the event will be announced later this week.

To contact Staff Writer John Chambless, email jchambless@chestercounty.com.

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