Tony Conway, manager of the band Alabama, is a busy man – and he has been since the revival of June Jam was announced just a few months ago.
But he’s excited, too, to see plans for the music festival’s return coming together for this weekend.
Conway said people can expect a “few little surprises” during the show.
“It looks like it’s going to be a sell-out,” he said late Tuesday. “It’s just got a great vibe to it. Everybody’s excited.”
Conway took some time out of his busy schedule to talk about what concert-goers can expect Saturday at the DeKalb County VFW Fairgrounds.
Entrance to the concert will be off 18th Street, Fort Payne police have explained, at the front main entrance to the fairgrounds.
Conway said the entrances there will bring people through the box office and into exhibition halls at the fairgrounds, where security personnel will be scanning attendees and issuing them either color-coded wrist bands or laminates, depending on which tickets they purchased.
The fairground has two VIP areas, he explained, with 400 seats in each section. There will be chairs there for fans who opted for the more expensive tickets, Conway said.
“Everyone else has to bring their own folding or camping chairs,” he said. After ticket-holders get their wristbands, they will be directed to their seating section, based on the ticket they purchased.
At previous June Jams (the show kicked off summers in Fort Payne from 1982 to 1997) people could bring in sleeping bags and blankets. That’s not allowed this time, Conway said.
“We just don’t have room for it,” he said. A crowd of 10,000 is expected for the show, and people will be allowed to set up their chairs all the way back toward the entrance to the fairgrounds.
He said when talks started about reviving the concert, they looked at Fort Payne High School, where the event was held for years. But they found a lot of changes had been made at the football field over the years, and it wouldn’t work.
“The fairground is perfect,” Conway said, for staging this event.
Seating outside the VIP areas is general admission, so after the gates open at 10 a.m. and people go through security, Conway said, they can come in and pick their spot, place their chairs and prepare to watch the show.
He did caution those attending: a folding chair will be the largest thing people can bring inside the fairgrounds.
Security concerns for June Jam 2023 are far different than those in the 1980s and 1990s. Conway said that’s just a reflection of things happening in the world in recent years. No one expects problems, but he said safety has been a top priority in planning for the festival.
That means safety for the audience, the artists performing, and the volunteers and employees working at the event, he said.
Conway said Alabama brought in a 40-man security team experienced in protecting outdoor events like this one. The team is working with Fort Payne police, the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, and state law enforcement to plan for the safety of everyone at the fairgrounds Saturday.
There are more restrictions for the show: No firearms, knives, or anything else the security staff construes as a weapon. People can bring in what they need in a clear bag – no larger than 12×12 inches. Conway said it does not have to be an elaborate bag; a clear freezer-type bag will be OK, as long as security personnel can see what’s inside.
Coolers are not allowed, nor are outside food and drinks. There will be 15 food and beverage vendors inside the fairgrounds.
Conway said the there have been talks with the vendors about pricing. “This is a benefit concert,” he said, and no one wants people attending to have to pay exorbidant prices to spend a day at the festival.
“We’ve told them we don’t want to see $8 beer and $6 water,” Conway said. “We want people to be able to get what they need.”
Beer is another new thing for the Jam. With changes in city regulations since 1997, vendors will be selling alcohol.
“On a hot day in the summer, that’s a good thing,” Conway said.
To buy from licensed vendors, he said, people will have to show ID and they will get another wrist band.
He said he expected most vendors will accept cards, but some information sites have indicated some vendors will be cash only. There will be ATMS on site, he said, should people need to get cash.
Some sites posting information about the event have indicated people can bring in empty water bottles to refill; Conway said that’s not allowed, on recommendation of the security team.
“We don’t want anything that can be thrown,” he said, for the safety of the people attending, the performers and people working.
He said organizers have tried to anticipate everything. However, that most modern of problems – keeping cell phones charged – has not been resolved, at least not yet. Conway said it’s still being looked into, but for now, they don’t have a way to provide charging stations for cell phone users.
With a show of this size, the demand for electricity is daunting. Even if they could arrange power for a cell phone charging area, he said, he didn’t know where they could put it. While it’s still something he’s trying to address, Conway recommended that people bring an extra battery for cell phones. He said it’s something he generally does for events like this, because devices won’t stay charged for the day.
As for the show, Conway said it will be better than ever, with improved equipment for sound and video screens. There will be one big stage, he said, rather than two stages as in past Jams.
“It’s going to be a great day of music,” he said.
Conway said the support of the City of Fort Payne, and the army of volunteers donated their time to work at the festival is the key to making the show fulfill its mission as a day of music and fun that raises funds for charity and disaster relief in the area.
Since June Jam started in 1982, Conway said the concert and related events have given back some $20 million to the community.
The 200 volunteers who will be working Saturday are a key part of that. The more volunteers, the less organizers have to pay workers, and the more money they can raise for charity, he said.
“It speaks loudly of the community,” he said. “everyone in the town and county have been very supportive.”
The show has 30 sponsors this year, providing monetary support or services, Conway said – another change from Jams of the past.
Events at the fairgrounds begin at noon, with a Celebration of Life for the late Jeff Cook, co-founder of the band Alabama. Cook died in November 2021.
Conway said it will be a very special memorial, with three performances. Wildwood – a Fort Payne area band that was the first to perform at the first June Jam – will be the first to perform this year, he said. The Isaacs will perform at the memorial and in the concert that follows it.
The concert has a long list of performers; he said most will perform four or five songs. There’s a DJ to keep the music going between the last three acts while set changes are made onstage, Conway said.
And the show will end as the idea for it began decades ago, with the band Alabama.
(Fort Payne Times-Journal)