Setting the stage

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Stagehand Ben Vrieze, of Fort Dodge, uses a level to check a section of the stage as he works on setting up for tonight's Downtown Country Jam.

After a crew of stagehands set the first row of metal framing for the stage at the inaugural Downtown Country Jam Friday afternoon in the middle of Ninth Street just a bit north of the Central Avenue crosswalk, Shellabration Inc. President Jim Reed needed to have it moved 3 feet south.

Each crew member grabbed a section and with a lot of muscle power in the broiling afternoon heat, slid it south the required 3 feet.

While 3 feet one way or the other might not sound like much, the level of planning that Reed and his committee have put into the event makes 3 feet seem like a mile.

It’s all part of putting on a show — sometimes, something is 3 feet off.

“We eliminated the word perfect from our vocabulary,” Reed said. “There’s always something you can’t anticipate.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen City of Fort Dodge electrician Steve Mattke works on helping to get the generator wired up Friday afternoon during setup for tonight's Downtown Country Jam.

Reed spent a lot of time making sure everything would fit.

“I came down here many times and walked it all out,” he said. “We had a core plan and everything looked good on paper.”

The seed for the Downtown Country Jam was planted 10 years ago when the band .38 Special had to cancel a Shellabration appearance at the last minute. The idea was to have them come back and do a solo show downtown. While that event never happened, the plans for a downtown show continued to be developed and with the cancellation of the Oktoberfest in Oleson Park due to ongoing construction work, it seemed a great opportunity to kick it off.

“The cake was already cooked,” Reed said. “All we had to do was frost it.”

He took the needs of downtown businesses and public safety and included them in his planning.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Aliyah Weideman, 9, of Duncombe, found a good spot to relax and watch the work Friday afternoon as crews set up the stage for tonight's Downtown Country Jam.

“We asked ourselves how does it support the public, businesses and how might it impact public safety,” he said.

Great Western Bank, Wells Fargo Bank and several other businesses are adjacent to the concert site.

“We reached out to tell them what the vision was,” he said. “We asked how do we not inconvenience everybody but include them in a positive way. Whatever we did we did not want an impediment to downtown businesses.”

Reed said the event also dovetails with efforts such as the Main Street Fort Dodge program and local community efforts to revitalize the area such as the planned renovation of the Warden Plaza complex.

Reed also stressed that parking for the event should not be an issue.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Stagehands Allie Reid, at left, along with Ben Vrieze, both of Fort Dodge, work on putting up the stage framing Friday afternoon for tonight's Downtown Country Jam.

“We have three points of entry,” he said. “There are several big parking lots within a half block.”

Fort Dodge has seen upwards of 10,000 visitors to the downtown area for the annual Frontier Days parade that found parking.

“We’re expecting 3,200 plus two,” he said. “They should be able to use the existing parking assets. There’s actual more parking downtown than at Harlan Rogers.”

Among the 2,057 details to be taken care of Friday was getting the power generator up and running.

City of Fort Dodge Electrician Steve Mattke was helping out with that task. The afternoon found him stripping the ends of several large cables to connect to the proper terminals.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen One of the parking meters on Central Avenue, with the stage behind it, displays a notice that the area won't be available for parking due to the Downtown Country Jam. Organizer Jim Reed said there's plenty of parking available downtown for concert goers.

The event is self-contained, it doesn’t feed off the grid.

“Oh no,” he said.

He has another task on Saturday night during the concert.

“I’ll be shutting off some of some of the overhead lights later,” he said.

Rob Lambert, of Gilmore City, works for Concert Productions. He’s one of several individuals responsible for setting up the lights.

He found himself doing something about the generator situation — actually reading the instruction manual.

“We’ll get all that up and running,” he said. “If we can get the generator started.”

The crew setting up the stage had another issue to deal with. City streets are not flat. They have a crown toward the center to allow rain to flow off into the gutter. The crew has to compensate for his when they set the stage using screw adjustable legs, several bubble levels and their own experience.

His co-worker, Andy Anderson, of Fort Dodge, said the tight space wasn’t really a problem. They just used different methods to put up the light towers and that the buildings actually served as a sort of protection from the wind.

Reed has his eye on several other spots in the downtown area that could serve as entertainment venues.

“We have three or four spots dying to be maximized,” he said.

The Downtown Country Jam, which features headliner LOCASH as well as Farm Rock and Fort Dodge native Jessica McClintock, kicks off at 6 p.m. Tickets are $25.