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Published: Saturday, 7/31/2004

Ft. Loramie festival does things right

There's something special about being able to sit under an Ohio summer night sky and get goosebumps as Martina McBride belts out "Independence Day." Or stand and shout your lungs out as Eddie Montgomery dances around the stage. Or try to catch a guitar pick thrown into the crowd by Ronnie Dunn. Or chat with Trace Adkins as he signs autographs.

It gets repetitive to say, but Country Concert, an annual four-day festival in Fort Loramie, Ohio, does things right.

The 112 arrests for underage drinking this year raise eyebrows, but organizers work closely with law enforcement to stop illegal drinking. Twenty-five undercover liquor agents patrolled the grounds this year, along with uniformed Shelby County sheriff's deputies.

"I think those figures are a deterrent. We could easily not cooperate and cut those arrest figures way down, but we're not about that," promoter Jim Prenger said. "There's always a new crop of underage drinkers that haven't learned their lesson. Country Concert is not a place to drink underage."

Nearly 20,000 fans packed into the Hickory Hill Lakes campground, south of Lima, earlier this month to watch the theatrics of Kix Brooks and Dunn on a Saturday night. Over the four days, this year's festival drew 66,000 people.

For the first time, the event has been nominated for the Outdoor Event of the Year by the International Entertainment Buyers Association, a nonprofit trade group based in Nashville.

When you can offer country music fans 23 acts, including Montgomery Gentry, Charlie Daniels, Trace Adkins, Neal McCoy, Martina McBride, Diamond Rio, Brooks & Dunn, and Lonestar, for as low as $133, people start to notice.

The stars love to show up every year because of the large crowds and because, frankly, they're fans of other country artists.

Attendance "was a little bit smaller than last year, but we had Toby and Kenny Chesney last year. This year Brooks & Dunn were the number one request of our fans, so we got them," Prenger said.

Next year is likely to produce the largest crowds and most star-packed lineup in the event's history as Country Concert celebrates 25 years.

"We're going to try to bring in the best show we've ever had," Prenger said.

Who and what happens at the show will be based mostly on feedback. Organizers will be posting a section on their Web site, www.countryconcert.com, to solicit ideas on how to make the 25th anniversary one to remember. Organizers, Prenger said, are expecting to spend more than they have in the past to bring in an act that may have been too expensive in the past.

"We're gathering ideas for what people envision is something special and mix that with what we think," Prenger said. "We want the fans to get involved to tell us what will make it special for them."

***

For fans of Loretta Lynn, WGTE-TV30 (Ch. 9 on Buckeye CableSystem) will be airing a Lynn concert at 8 p.m. on Aug. 9. The show will feature a collection of her greatest hits and an array of classic country songs.

Brian Dugger's column on country music appears the last Saturday of every month. Contact him at bdugger@theblade.com

or 419-724-6183.



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