Eric Church

Eric Church performs during day 1 of 2014 Stagecoach: California's Country Music Festival, April 25, at the Empire Polo Club in Indio, California.

Christopher Polk/Getty Images for Stagecoach

Eric Church, the official pace car driver for Sunday’s (Oct. 24) Talladega 500 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway, took part in the announcement of the lineup for the inaugural Dega Jam, a major country music festival set for the massive speedway complex for July 1-3, 2016.
 
Church, whose song “Talledga” appears on his 2014 album The Outsiders, will be joined by Blake Shelton, Toby Keith, Kid Rock, Hank Williams, Jr., Billy Currington, Lynyrd Skynyrd and many others performing at Dega Jam. (See the full lineup below.)

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New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival producers Festival Productions Inc. (FPI) and AEG Live will produce the festival, which was announced Oct. 15 along with the first Country 500 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, another FPI/AEG country fest set for May 27-29 (Memorial Day Weekend) next year. Both NASCAR speedways are owned and operated by International Speedway Corp. (ISC).
 
Dega Jam and Country 500 mark an expansion of FPI’s foray into country music festivals. FPI and AEG Live, in association with Messina Touring Group, already produce successful country fests at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La. (Bayou Country Superfest) and Ohio Stadium in Columbus (Buckeye Country Superfest), and FPI has partnered with AEG on the venerable Jazz Fest in New Orleans for 11 years.

The speedway fests are part of a strategic alliance between the partners, “with the idea of doing really large festivals on the infield of … the two biggest car race tracks in America, Daytona International Speedway and Talledega Superspeedway,” says FPI CEO Quint Davis. Like launching festivals at the iconic football stadiums, Davis tells Billboard, the speedways are home to, “a culture, a sociology, a history, for this whole infrastructure that’s not music yet, but it’s gonna be.

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“It’s a great demo and a great match, and for us it’s really a great opportunity for FPI partnering with AEG, because it’s what we do,” Davis continues. “For 40 years we’ve doing this thing called the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a big ol’ festival outdoors in a field, with multiple food, craft, activities and all that. The stadium festivals have been great, we patterned and learned that from [Messina Touring president] Louie [Messina], but this is our first opportunity really to go out and do the kinds of festivals that we do.”
 
With three stages offering five acts per day, Dega Jam and 500 Jam will present 45 acts each, which allows Davis and the FPI talent buyers to delve deeper into the country genre than the stadium model allows.

“Now, in addition to [acts like] Florida Georgia Line, Kid Rock, Luke Bryan, Toby Keith and Eric Church, we’ve got Eric and Hank Williams, Jr., we’ve got a night with Florida Georgia Line, Kid Rock and Willie Nelson,” Davis says. “We’ve got Lynyrd Skynrd, Martina McBride, Dwight Yoakam, Vince Gill and his Time Jumpers, and we’ve also got Lee Brice, Kip Moore, Gary Allan, Tyler Farr and Chase Rice. We’re able to do what Jazzfest does in other genres, offer something for everybody, the whole range of country music.”
 
Davis believes these Jams will offer something unique in the country music festival space, which has seen a gold rush of sorts with a dozen new fests launched over the past four years. Live Nation Country Music president Brian O’Connell has launched seven country festivals, and AEG, FPI and AEG subsidiary Goldenvoice have now launched a total of six, including Big Barrel in Dover, Del. (in partnership with Firefly producers), and the Country Superfests in Baton Rouge, La., Columbus, Ohio, and Jacksonville, Fla.

“To me there’s always been three kinds of festivals: a field setting in an urban setting, like New Orleans where people stay in hotels; a field festival that’s a camper, like Bonnaroo; and then stadiums,” Davis explains. “Looking at this [speedway] infrastructure, we can do some of all of that. The infield is so big we’ve got areas to put the festival that are bigger than Jazzfest, but we haven’t used up the campground inside the track. We’ll have 10,000-15,000 people in their RVs, fancy buses and tents, camped out inside the festival. That’s gonna be a party.”
 
Taking music events into these fabled NASCAR venues is “a big honor again,” for Davis, he says, on a par with going into LSU’s famed “Death Valley” in Baton Rouge or the “The Horseshoe” in Columbus. “These sacred NASCAR tracks are now going to become entertainment venues,” says Davis. And, while Davis agrees “here is an explosion of activity in country music, tours and festivals of all sizes,” he points out that staging a country fest “is not as easy as it looks.”
 
But FPI’s partners and sites with the “NASCAR-inspired” fests does give them an edge, Davis believes.

“If you have the right elements of a destination festival -- and obviously talent pulls the wagon -- you promote it properly, and it’s a great experience … to us, that’s what’s going to endure, stand out, and still be around 10 years from now. That’s our experience, that’s what we’ve seen, and that’s what we’re out to do here.”
 
“Being the biggest race track in NASCAR and having nearly 3,000 acres of unlimited camping opportunities, Dega Jam is uniquely positioned to become one of the -- if not the -- biggest country music festival in the country,” says Grant Lynch, chairman of Talladega Superspeedway, in a statement. “More than 70 percent of our NASCAR customers come from outside of the state, generating more than $380 million annually for Alabama tourism, and we expect Dega Jam to add significantly to this economic impact.”
 
Meanwhile, with Dega Jam, set for July 1-3, Davis and FPI are digging into a big budget item in pyrotechnics. “We’re just starting to figure out how many fireworks we’ve gotta have,” Davis says. “It’s Fourth Of July, we’ve got to deliver!”
 
General Admission three-day passes, VIP packages and travel packages for Dega Jam go on sale today at degajam.com, with early-bird pricing for weekend passes available for a limited time. Camping opportunities will be available for purchase starting Oct. 29.

The Country 500 talent announcement is set for Nov. 3. Check out the Dega Jam lineup below.

Eric Church
Blake Shelton
Toby Keith
Kid Rock
Hank Williams, Jr.
Billy Currington
Lynyrd Skynyrd
Lee Brice
Martina McBride
Gary Allan
Kip Moore
Tyler Farr
Chase Rice
Chris Janson
Dwight Yoakam
Frankie Ballard
Jamey Johnson
Easton Corbin
Jerrod Niemann
Sara Evans
The Time Jumpers, featuring Vince Gill Kenny Sears, and Ranger Doug Green
Montgomery Gentry
Marty Stuart
Eli Young Band
Colt Ford
Brothers Osborne
Brandy Clark
Clare Dunn
John Anderson
Kristian Bush
The Cadillac Three
Aaron Lewis
Pat Green
Josh Thompson
RaeLynn
Mac Powell
Rodney Atkins
Cassadee Pope
Shooter Jennings
The Swon Brothers
Mo Pitney
Frank Foster
Whiskey Myers
Ruthie Collins.