BLAIRS, Va. — County residents of the Blairs-Hwy 29 area met on the evening of June 3 at White Oak Worship Center to voice their concerns about the Blue Ridge Amphitheater and the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, a large-scale event scheduled by Purpose Driven Events for September 2021.
Representatives from local governing agencies and departments were present to answer citizens’ questions regarding the heavily debated event.
The meeting was organized by Glenda Clark, Kathy Nixon and Darrell Campbell and included guest speakers from Public Safety, the Environmental Health Department, the Sheriff’s Department, the Virginia State Police Department, Virginia ABC Bureau of Law Enforcement, Pittsylvania County Community Development and the Pittsylvania County Board of Supervisors, as well as a report from VDOT.
Concerns ranged from sanitation to parking to noise levels, and residents took turns presenting their questions to the representatives.
One citizen pinpointed uncertainty as a key factor in the widespread concern: “There are just so many unanswered questions, and I think that’s why all of us are worried.”
Chris Slemp, the current Public Safety Director, made comparisons between Pittsylvania County and other areas he’s worked, including Franklin County, Richmond and Myrtle Beach. Slemp identified the county’s unique and unpredictable weather as his primary concern for an event of this size but alluded to the practical solution of working with the National Weather Service to create a specific forecast for the White Oak Mountain location.
Slemp also provided clarification regarding the Public Safety Department’s intentions for providing Emergency Medical Services at the expense of the event company, with at least one ambulance for every 2500 people present.
Briana Bill, Environmental Health Manager at Virginia Department of Health, explained the Health Department’s role in regulating the food and camping aspects of an event like the Blue Ridge Rock Festival, getting into the specifics of food vendor inspections, greywater management, campsite requirements, waste disposal and potable water importation.
According to Emily Ragsdale, Director of Community Development, Purpose Driven Events will be required to submit a number of plans for the September festival, including a site plan, a plan for sanitation facilities, a plan for food, water and lodging for eventgoers, a plan for medical facilities and EMS coverage, a parking and traffic control plan, a fire protection plan, a plan for outdoor lighting, a sound plan from an engineer and a security and crowd control plan.
Ragsdale explained that the event company is currently unable to submit the aforementioned plans until the music festival ordinance is updated and adopted by the Board of Supervisors.
Mr. Owen, a local resident, voiced his opinion regarding what he considered to be the ideal attitude toward an event of this size: “Everybody has got to assume the worst to prepare for the best.”
Sheriff Mike Taylor offered some insight into the Sheriff’s Department’s approach to the event. Both the Sheriff’s Department and the VA State Police have been contacting those involved with comparable previous events in surrounding areas to identify potential problems and take preventative measures.
“The laws will be applied…And we will be fair with the people,” Sheriff Taylor said.
From the meeting attendees, there was an overall posture of gratitude toward the Sheriff’s Office and State Police for their efforts in upholding the wellbeing of all Pittsylvania County residents.
Throughout the meeting, some presented a wide variety of complaints about the festival’s potential to disrupt daily life for local homeowners. One citizen, Mr. Bray, described his disappointment at having to sacrifice the quiet atmosphere that drew him to the area.
“To me, this is tantamount to noise pollution. Not to mention all the other pollution…And I’m really mad. I just moved out here for peace and quiet and enjoyment,” Mr. Bray said. “I don’t care what genre of music it is—it is going to impede, impose upon and impact my quiet enjoyment.”
Tensions rose over the issue of the music festival ordinance currently under revision. Robert Warren, chairman of the Board of Supervisors, sought to decelerate the mounting frustration directed toward the Board for their role in either approving or opposing the event.
“We have to represent 64,000 citizens…We’re trying to serve you all the best we can,” Warren said. “We’re trying to put the best ordinance in place. We’ve got every agency involved, and we’ve asked them to be as stringent as possible—to protect you all.”
The Board chairman emphasized the importance of considering the matter from other citizens’ perspectives, citing feedback he’s received from those in favor of the music festival, such as the event’s potential to attract tourists to the area and provide an opportunity for fun in a world still healing from the coronavirus pandemic.
Warren highlighted examples of steps already taken by the Board of Supervisors to alleviate citizens’ concerns to make the event a more positive experience for everyone, such as requesting that the event start time be moved from 1:00 PM to a later time, to allow for crowds leaving from church services on Sunday afternoon.
“I’ll hear [the music] too…but we as citizens have to look at the big picture, not just the little picture. We do have to protect our little picture, and that’s what we’re trying to do,” Warren said.
The Board of Supervisors will meet June 15 at 7:00 PM to discuss the music festival ordinance.