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I see the Mayor is getting out his signs again this year. This is a welcome sight because he deserves another term for...

Dowdy-Ficklen concert draws 20,000 fans

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Eric Church performs during the Carolina Kickoff concert at Dowdy Ficklen Stadium on Saturday night, Aug. 20, 2016. (Abbey Mercando/The Daily Reflector)

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Beth Velliquette

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Young women in shorts and cowboy boots, men in ball caps, old couples, young couples, big groups of friends and a few families streamed into Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium on Saturday for the first-ever Carolina Kickoff.

It wasn’t a football game. They were attending the “church of Eric” — Eric Church, that is — one of North Carolina’s native sons, who has reached the top of the country music charts. 

“I’m a huge fan,” said Tyler Lewis of Atlantic Beach. “I was so excited that he was coming close enough so I could go.”

Lewis and a group of friends were tailgating outside the stadium during the afternoon, partying and ready to rock.

In the parking lots and fields near the stadium, it was a lot like football Saturday, with tents, campers and pickup trucks parked on asphalt and grass. Some people set up barbecue grills and had a cookout, while others focused more on drinking.

Dana Hardy and her fiance, Kensil Evans, both of Grimesland, said they were trying to be careful they didn’t drink too much.

“We’re planning on trying to maintain our buzz and not get so messed up we don’t remember the concert,” Hardy said. “We have two drinks and then a bottle of water.” 

Hardy said she loves Church so much that she’s already picked out one of his songs, “You Make It Look So Easy,” as the first song she and Evans will dance to at their wedding next year.

Carolyn Phillips of Greenville also loves Church, and when she heard he was coming to Dowdy-Ficklen, she bought tickets the first day they were available.

“I’ve been to multiple Eric Church concerts and spent thousands and thousands of dollars to see him,” she said. “He’s a North Carolina boy. He’s a country singer that still has a little bit of old soul, but a little rock with him.”

Andrew Thompson, chief business officer for Basis Entertainment, the company that brought the concert to Greenville, said people came from all over the state and country to see the concert with Church and Kid Rock as the main headliners.

“We had some people from the west coast from Seattle that purchased tickets,” Thompson said. “They’re alumni and they heard about it.”

ECU and Basis already have plans for another concert in Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium at the beginning of the school year in 2017, Thompson said. 

He can’t say yet who the headline act will be. That will be announced on Sept. 10 during the football game when the N.C. State Wolfpack comes to town to play the Pirates. 

“He is a top national act, well-known in the media,” Thompson said.

When the first couple acts came out and played during the afternoon on Saturday, not too many people were in the stands, but as the sun set in the west, more people came into the stadium. When Kid Rock started his set at 7:30 p.m., the stands began to fill up.

Ticket sales as of Saturday afternoon had been good, Thompson said. He said ticket-selling would continue at the gate even after the first act, David Ray, started his set about 4 p.m.

J.J. McLamb, ECU’s associate athletics director, who was in charge of organizing the concert, said they sold about 20,000 tickets.

The stadium can hold up to 50,000 fans for a football game, but the capacity for a concert is about 40,000 people. 

“I think it's a great turnout for a first-time event, and we put it on in a quick turnaround,” McLamb said. “As we said we just put tickets on sale in May and it's August the 20th and didn't have a lot of time for it, and we're already working on putting on a show next year,” McLamb said.

“We're excited about the partnership with Basis Entertainment and IMG to bring an event of this magnitude to Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium,” McLamb said. “It's another time we get to put another plus 20,000 folks in our venue that may not be football season ticket holders, that may not be Pirate Club members, may not be sports fans, but it gives them a time to come and see our facilities and showcase how we can put on an event with the hope of many more to come.”

Lt. Chris Sutton, of the ECU Police Department, early in the afternoon said he had not heard of any serious traffic problems because of the concert and students moving into the dormitories. Many of the students moved in during the past four days, he said, so the traffic wasn’t so bad near the stadium on Saturday.

Members of the Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, along with officers from the ECU, Greenville, Ayden and Winterville police departments, worked at the concert, directing traffic outside the stadium and maintaining security inside. 

The level of security is about the same as what they would use for a football game. No backpacks were allowed inside, and other bags were checked at the gates, he said.

“At this point we have not seen any issues with the traffic, which is exactly what we hoped for,” he said.

Basis Entertainment has been planning the concert for six or seven months, contacting and contracting with local caterers and rental agencies for the chairs and tents and hotels, Thompson said.

“It’s been a dream coming here,” Thompson said. “The facilities have been fantastic and the people have been even better.”

 

Contact Beth Velliquette at bvelliquette@reflector.com or 252-329-9566.

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