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Saturday, September 20, 2014
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Published: Saturday, 7/27/2013

Fans turn out in force for festivals

BY BRIAN DUGGER
BLADE COLUMNIST
Brian Dugger. Brian Dugger.
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For the first time in a while, Live Nation Country president Brian O'Connell slept in on Friday.

All the worst-case scenarios he obsessed over for the past year and a half about bringing an outdoor music festival to southern Michigan never came to reality.

By any set of standards, the inaugural Faster Horses Festival was a success, with 20,000 three-day passes being sold to the event, which was held in a field near the Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn.

“It was a winner,” O’Connell said. “Our mission was to bring a world-class, three-day hillbilly sleepover to Michigan, northern Ohio, and Canada. We checked off all the boxes. The fans had a good time, the artists had a good time. If you can check off those two boxes, you’re doing all right.”

In February, 2012, a photo that O’Connell took of a field near MIS appeared in Billboard Magazine.

It was just an empty field, like miles and miles of fields in southern Michigan. But this was the site that O’Connell envisioned for the Faster Horses Festival.

Today, the field is still empty, but for three days last weekend, that barren field came to life, with country music fans screaming and dancing to hits from Jason Aldean, Dierks Bentley, Luke Bryan, and dozens of other artists.

Not that O’Connell didn’t have some sleepless nights, wondering if he could pull it off.

“It’s human nature to fear the unknown. My biggest concern was everything,” he said. “I didn’t know if people would like it.”

But, they did.

“Every single one of the smiles, the fans having a good time, that was my highlight,” O’Connell said. “My goal was to make Faster Horses a thing, a place, an entity. I now have 20,000 ambassadors or so, and we started with zero.”

O’Connell has been monitoring social media to gather feedback, and he says the response has been overwhelmingly positive.

“A lot of people are saying they can’t wait to come back next year.”

O’Connell said people should expect an announcement about next year soon.

“We put this event on the map. It is my intention to do it again and again and again. Next time, we’ll do it better.”

Faster Horses’ success was even more impressive given that it was in competition for entertainment dollars with Country Concert in Fort Loramie, Ohio.

The 33rd edition of Country Concert took place the weekend before Faster Horses.

“The weather was absolutely perfect this year,” promoter Jim Prenger said.

More than 50,000 fans attended over three days. Brad Paisley drew the biggest crowd, with 18,020 on hand for his Saturday show.

He asked fans to download an app to their smart phones before the show. As he sang, his lighting director was able to synchronize the flashing lights from the phones to the beat of the music. “That was the first time I’ve seen technology used like that in my 33 years of doing this,” Prenger said. “It was very cool.”

Brian Dugger’s column on country music appears in The Blade the final Saturday of every month. Contact him at bdugger@theblade.com or on Twitter @DuggerCountry.



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