By Riley Hunter –
Welcome to my three-part series (it was an amazing show and deserves a full run-down) of the 31st Annual Country Jam 2021 Festival held in Eau Claire, WI on July 15 thru 17, 2021.
In this issue, I’ll start my journey with “Be Prepared”. I’ll give you some of my “What To Plan For” tips while touching on other subjects found in my future articles. In the January 2022 issue, we get settled in, and I’ll talk about our camping adventures. It’s truly an experience all on its own! Finishing off in the April 2022 issue, and just in time for the 32nd Annual Country Jam Festival on July 21 thru the 23, 2022, I will introduce you to Country Jam’s VIP Experience. This is where I fell in love with Country Jam! So let’s get started.
Be Prepared! – Part 1
I was excited to be going to my first major event with a ton of people when we are technically still in a pandemic but I was mentally and physically ready to take a few days to enjoy the country festival like I had so many years before! I was nervous but excited, unsure how to pack so I over-packed like usual, and just pushed my anxieties to the side about forgetting something and got on the road. Eau Claire, Wisconsin area is the home of many festivals during the summer but this, in my eyes, would end up to be the best return from Pandemic isolation ever!
Let me help you prepare for your journey. You need to plan early for this, especially if you want great seating and stellar lodging if you aren’t going to camp, and want some quiet time because most hotels start to book out immediately following the festivals
The weather here in Wisconsin plays a huge factor! We see changes in the weather like crazy! Sometimes it’s so hot during the day that you need to wear shirts that don’t stick to your skin. I would rather wear a bathing suit under my clothes because the sweat is unbearable when my clothes are wet. You know there’s a difference in feeling like you wet your pants versus your wet from the swimming pool or the cold water you purposely poured on yourself to cool down. Men are lucky. They can walk around with their shirts off. In fact, one man walks by with just his speedo on but carries his clothes with him!
Plan to pay to park and walk with all your belongings! This can be very difficult since no bags for chairs are allowed, and no coolers. Review their bag policy for sizes that are allowed or not. If you plan to stay at a hotel, make sure they provide a shuttle. The list is posted online.
Plan for the time the artists you want to see are on stage and be on the shuttle an hour and 15 minutes prior. Why 15 minutes? You need to be out to the shuttle stop 15 minutes before the time as they come and go quickly. Sometimes the shuttles are early. I took a nap and went out 5 minutes before the scheduled time and I missed the shuttle. So I took my car and had to pay for parking. In my experience, it was very hard to locate my car in the dark. And after I did, it took about an hour to get out of the lot and back to my hotel. So those who left immediately after the last act were likely the ones who were tailgating in the parking lot, just waiting for the traffic to die down. Shuttles charge a daily rate, same as parking, but are given priority to leave. They stop traffic to let them out on the road to return you to your hotel once the shuttle bus is full.
I can’t state this enough, which I will talk about in detail in our April 2022 issue, that VIP is truly the way to go! VIP parking is free with ticket purchase and it was easier to find my car, less wait to get out, and boom, you have it made. They truly do VIP the best! All I needed was some cash for tips and maybe a drinking mug … Everything is ready and waiting for you.
The campgrounds have their own rules for safety reasons so read up on those because driving through the grounds is not allowed, and if you return after 11 am, you will be parking farther away from your campsite located in the overflow area near the fields. So being prepared is a MUST.
You may have been cooking at the campground, but I encourage everyone that you need to eat some of the food at the concessions! ( I cover this truly heavenly food in the activities of Country Jam VIP Best of the Best.) Here you will find some amazing vendors and WI favorites that just completely are mouth-watering goodness!
Plan for your health and wellbeing. Most people are going with a group of people or they meet people at Country Jam. If you are like me, you go alone and just chat with everyone around you. If you have a medical condition, Country Jam has a medical tent and a team of people right as you walk in the main gates. Go introduce yourself and let them know what your medical conditions are so if something should happen they are ready.
Plan to buy water or stand in line at the water station to fill your drinking mug. You can also purchase one at their Country Jam merchandise tent. If you’re coming only on Saturday, then it’s likely those drinking mugs that they sell have sold out the day before. The water bottles were $3 this year and maybe you can buy one and reuse it, but every bit of what you buy helps a local organization raise funds.
Weather conditions can help the fun or it can cause your experience to be “under the weather”, so plan for anything. Bring a light jacket or sweater for nighttime, rain/slop boots and poncho if it rains (no umbrellas aren’t allowed), and extra batteries for phones or electronics so you aren’t marching to your car!
We arrived with a bit of confusion on where to park because I wanted to test out both VIP and general admission to see the differences. Country Jam has the best and most friendly staff that stand in the heat in bright yellow shirts directing us where to go, you can’t get lost as long as you’re willing to speak up and ask.
Day 1 and bonus #1, VIP parking lot! This is included with the VIP ticket, so no worrying about cash for parking. So how do we get to the gate? Just ask the staff and they will point you in the right direction! Bonus #2, they offer golf cart shuttles that go back and forth from the parking lot to the main gate, so it’s super convenient to not have to walk in the hot heat with your personal belongings.
My next suggestion, if you have never been to a festival, is to go early! There is waaaay less waiting in lines for everything, and you can get a better feel of what’s going on! I have always wanted to simplify everything, and I learned how with Country Jam’s VIP service which stops you from having to go in and out because they provide everything you need. Other festivals I’ve been to and had “their VIP service” did not. Truly, Country Jam has VIP experience on lock … I have never experienced such an incredible VIP experience like theirs.
In general admission, every time you’re entering the park, you have to get your bags and your person scanned for metal, which is fine. Clearly, this is for safety. But when lines get long, it can be a good 5-10 minute wait. The volunteers that work these stations want to make your experience great, so they smile and make it as efficient as possible. This is where I learned how great Country Jam is to even their volunteers because those who volunteer are also with organizations that Country Jam gives back to through funds they raise at the grounds over the weekend. Some are religious groups raising money for missions, and others are local groups giving back to the community in providing services to those in need. On top of this, they do fundraisers and even auction off guitars signed by artists! All of which goes on in between artist acts on the main stage! In one tent they hold a silent auction. Make sure to go down near the stage to be able to participate. Listening to the auctioneer who was spitting out the fast-talking prices brought me back to the farm day with my grandma and the anticipation of winning the bid! I was actually blown away at what they raised with the Autographed guitars by Chris Young. His guitar sold for $5000. Tracy Lawrence sold for $1000, Black Hawk sold for $4100, John Michael Montgomery sold for $1000, John Pardi guitar sold for $3000, and two that were autographed by all the artists that weekend sold for $3500, and the other for $5000. They also auctioned off 2nd row VIP tickets for $5000. I learned that Country Jam tickets are coveted as much as the Greenbay Packers tickets are, as they allow you to renew your VIP tickets each year, and some have had them passed to legacies. The generosity of country fans has always been one that astounds me! A Jon Pardi guitar, that a man bought early for $4000, had wanted it to be resold to raise more funds for the community. It was resold for $2500 more!
Country Jam also stimulates the local economy which can bring in $24 million in revenue over that one weekend. Covid has taken a big toll on the local economy, and everyone was excited to see this event return. Many local businesses experienced relief from the festival in providing a livelihood for local workers. As we know, the trickle-down effect provides jobs, more events, restoration of buildings, and livable wages for all participants.
Once you are past the scanning of your person, it’s a super easy, very fast stop to get your ID checked & then provided with your 21 and older wristband.
Next for us was roaming around seeing the layout of Country Jam. Let me say, I have never been to a festival with this amount of plentiful food selections! There’s also a shopping section of vendors, who are from the local area. You can readily find your country gear, boots and hats, belt buckles and spurs, shirts, hoodies and tank tops, and more personal fashion items like jewelry and dresses!
Lastly, remember to just have fun! Everyone here is simply trying to have the time of their life at whatever age that may be. Even if you don’t like country music, there are so many great things to do there if you open your mind and heart to it, and just give it that “old college try!” See you in 2022 Jammers!
See you in our next issue, coming January 2022, with Part 2 – Country Jam’s Camping Adventures!