A stage in the street

Crews set up for Downtown Country Jam

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Crews move a stage panel into place as they work on putting up the set for the Downtown Country Jam at Central Avenue and Ninth Street in downtown Fort Dodge. Gates for the concert, which features Granger Smith with Cody Hicks and Salty View Acoustic Review, open at 5:30 p.m.

Before Granger Smith with Cody Hicks and Salty View Acoustic Review can play the Downtown Country Jam at Central Avenue and Ninth Street in Fort Dodge tonight, there has to be something for them to play on.

Setting up the stage, as well as the lights, the sound gear, the speakers, the barricades, the trash cans, the tents for concessions and all the other 1,001 things required for the show, started Friday morning.

Shellabration President Jim Reed, who organizes the show, said it’s a combination of volunteers and paid workers who put the show together the day before the concert.

“It’s a combination of paid professionals and volunteers,” he said. “At our core, Shellabration is a volunteer organization, but there are some positions that require an experienced professional. Riggers for example.”

Andrew Nespor, with Event Staging Systems of Omaha, Nebraska, is one of those paid professionals. He’s responsible for physically setting up the stage.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Andrew Nespor, with Event Staging Systems of Omaha, uses a laser to check the elevation of the stage supports Friday afternoon while working to put up the set for the Downtown Country Jam at Central Avenue and Ninth Street.

Friday found him directing a crew that was putting the support structure together, then placing panels on top of them to hold the musicians and their instruments.

Once the first row was done, the rest of it went quite quickly.

The key to efficiency?

“Not letting them get too far ahead.” he said.

Nespor’s crew Friday was a mix of experienced stage hands and first timers. He was happy with the way they were able to work together.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Brian Joseph, of Laurens, finds out that the stage panels are both heavy and a little bit awkward Friday afternoon as he helps build the stage for tonight's Downtown Country Jam concert at Central Avenue and Ninth Street in downtown Fort Dodge.

“Very much so.” he said.

Volunteer Brian Joseph, of Laurens, was holding up his end of each panel as he worked with the crew to put them in place. The panels are heavy and a bit awkward. There’s even a trick to getting them to settle properly atop the support structure pegs that hold them. The end nearest the already settled panels goes down first.

Joseph thought it might be an interesting day.

“It sounded like something fun to do.” he said. “It runs in my family. My dad had a traveling band.”

Of course, the volunteers do get a reward for their work.

“A ticket.” he said.

Reed said that he’s expecting plenty of fans.

“Ticket sales are brisk,” he said. “We’re on track to break 3,000.”

This is the second year the Downtown Country Jam has been held at the Central Avenue and Ninth Street location. Reed said he had been working on how to turn the area into a concert venue for a decade.

He said his predictions about how everything about the area would work turned out to be correct.

“Once people got here and saw it,” he said. “They were blown away by what they saw. The public saw what we saw.”

Like the infamous saying, when it comes to setting up a show, the devil really is in the details.

Reed said they meticulously plan everything.

“We bought $130 worth of colored duct tape to mark out seating and other areas.” he said.

They do leave virtually nothing untaped either. Even a high spot on the sidewalk had bright pink tape applied to it to make it more visible.

Gates open at 5:30 p.m. today.

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