John Gourley knows the live music business, especially when it comes to organizing outdoor festivals. For 31 years, Gourley has been among the organizers of the We Fest, a three-day country music and camping festival in Detroit Lakes, Minn.
Gourley is also among those producing the Flatlands Country Music Festival at Sporting Park, home of the Major League Soccer team Sporting KC. He talked with The Star recently about this inaugural event and why he thinks it has found a long-term home.
Talk about your background in the live music world.
The company that is producing our side of the show is called Marquee Events. We have been promoting shows in Kansas City since the mid-1970s, back in the days of the Cowtown Ballroom and the Freedom Palace. We also did a ton of shows at the Uptown Theater after it was newly restored.
In terms of outdoor activities, we did the Rolling Stones at Arrowhead and U2 at Arrowhead and a variety of shows at Sandstone when it was new. That’s essentially my Kansas City background.
We also produce the largest country music and camping festival in America, We Fest. It is kind of the icon in terms of country music festivals. It’s on 400 acres. About 28,000 people camp each day, and 50,000 people attend the show each day.
That’s what began the conversation with the team at Sporting Park. They had been interested in developing repeatable events at this wonderful facility. We started talking about the country music festival theme, a variation on what we’ve been so successful with at We Fest all these years.
What have you tried to apply from We Fest as you put together the Flatlands festival?
We believe music is better outdoors. That has kind of been our founding principal. We specialize in outdoor events. The first thing you look for is a unique environment. I don’t think a lot of country music fans in Kansas City know that as a venue how unique Sporting Park is not just to Kansas City but to the world. It’s an amazing place to see soccer or music.
How is it so unique?
Once people arrive at Flatlands festival they’ll see the proximity to the stage, the sight lines and all the amenities that exist, whether you have a $59 seat or do the VIP experience. It will be very different than any other festival and different from the normal concert experience in Kansas City. It’s a little hard to describe how unique the place is until you experience it. We’re really excited to get Year 1 under our belts and let the word spread.
One of the reasons we ended up with such an incredible lineup for Year 1 is word had already spread about this venue through agents and managers about the music events that have already been here. They feel like it also is a unique place to present their music.
The other thing about this setting is, in addition to all that we’re doing at Sporting, is all the shopping and food and beverages at Legends about a minute away. There is re-entry, so you can come and go as you please and plan your day around the music you want to see. It will add to the experience. Most of these festivals take place out in the woods.
The festival opens with a free show Thursday night outside the stadium. How will that be set up?
We’re setting up the Sprint Plaza, that outdoor entry area. That’s where the Charlie Daniels Band will perform and Kevin Fowler and Jared Daniels. It will be surrounded with vendors selling boots, hats. There will be a mechanical bull. It will be a fun party atmosphere.
We Fest is on what was originally a dude ranch with an actual ranch house. We built a mini-outdoor stage there, and it has become like the Bluebird Cafe of the festival. We present upcoming bands there, like Florida Georgia Line recently.
That’s what we envision for the plaza area: Keep it free, get the party started and set the scene before the main events on Friday and Saturday.
Your lineup features some heavyweights, especially for an inaugural festival.
Sometimes when you book a show, especially when it’s the first year, you don’t necessarily get it 100 percent over the top in terms of talent selection. But sometimes you get lucky.
We knew how popular Luke Bryan is, but we had no idea he would have the No. 1 record in the country — in all music, not just country — the week of the show. Darius Rucker: No one saw how huge “Wagon Wheel” would become.
And who knew Kellie Pickler would win “Dancing With the Stars”? Toby and Miranda: That’s a great lineup. And Thompson Square is really on the rise, which has always been our specialty, finding bands who are on their way up.
The first Flatlands Country Music Festival begins Thursdaywith a free concert in the pavilion outside Sporting Park. Gates open at 5 p.m. Music starts at 7 p.m. The headliner, the Charlie Daniels Band, goes on at 10:30 p.m. Also on the bill: the Jared Daniels Band and Kevin Fowler.
Tickets for the Friday and Saturday night shows, which will be inside the stadium, start at $59 for a single-day general admission ticket. A two-day GA ticket costs $99. Tickets are available in the stadium seats: $70 single day, $125 for both days. Floor seating is also available: $75 for single day, $140 for both days. Children 2 years old and younger will be admitted free. Several VIP packages are available for Friday and Saturday nights starting at $400. Visitflatlandsfestival.com
: Gates open at 2 p.m. Music starts at 2:15 p.m. The headliner, Luke Bryan, goes on at 10:30 p.m. Also on the bill (in reverse order of appearance): Darius Rucker, Rodney Atkins, Thompson Square, Kevin Fowler and Drew Six.
Saturday’s schedule: Gates open at 2 p.m. Music starts at 2:15 p.m. The headliner, Toby Keith, goes on at 10:30 p.m. Also on the bill (in reverse order of appearance): Miranda Lambert, Kellie Pickler, Love and Theft, JT Hodges and Travis Martin.