When my mom and brother asked me to cover Gulf Coast Jam in Panama City Beach, Florida I groaned. I’m not into that kind of country, you know the radio kind that you either love or hate – the kind that ends friendships and divides families. I reluctantly sent off my press form and within a few hours I was locked in. I wish I had known then how much fun I was going to have.
The 6th annual Pepsi Gulf Coast Jam broke it’s attendance records – over 73,000 country music fans spilling into Frank Brown Park – despite Mother Nature doing her best to hamper the festival. The event faced evacuations on each of the three days – including a massive evacuation on Sunday night shortly before the headline act was set to hit the stage resulting in a cancellation of artist Brett Young – but before an announcement that the gates were going to be reopened could even be made fans were packing themselves in lines like sardines.
There’s something the be said about country music and it’s followers. The artists themselves are incredibly humble – almost everyone on the bill took time while performing to sign hats, posters, and children’s guitars – but the fans were too. The first day of the festival, after the rain and 23,000 feet trudging back and forth across the grounds, the park was nothing but thick mud and conditions didn’t improve as the weekend went on. Fortunately, while I was bouncing back and forth between the photo pit and our small camp in VIP, my mom and brother made friends with a group that ended up standing behind them. At the end of the night my mom and I were scrambling trying to plan how we were going to get my brother – in his wheelchair – and our wagon back to our truck. Without missing a beat the group we met was moving my brother and our gear toward the exit. The next day they met up with us and did the same thing. This gesture was a reflection on the entire weekend and the kindness shown to us by both the staff and attendees.
If you get the chance go to Gulf Coast Jam, drink a few beers, and dance your ass off with some strangers.
Laura is a native St. Louisan giving you the front row view by photographing your favorite artists.