It takes a village: Tiny Pesotum preparing for concert's huge influx

It takes a village: Tiny Pesotum preparing for concert's huge influx

Around 15 percent of the population of Pesotum packed into a little room in the small town's village hall, exhausting the building's supply of chairs.

This Friday, an expected crowd of more than 10,000 people will flow through the village of about 550 and head to a patch of grass just outside of town for Luke Bryan's Farm Tour stop.

Many of the 80 people in attendance at Wednesday's meeting expressed concern about how the once-in-a-lifetime country music event would affect their small-town lives.

"There have been a lot of people that have expressed their dissatisfaction about it being here," local fire Chief Rob Russian said. "Such a small town, bringing all of these people into the village that doesn't have the infrastructure or the ability to deal with something like that."

Combined with the sheriff's department, the Illinois State Police and the fire department, the village is doing the best it can to make the experience a positive one for Pesotum residents — or at least limit the disruption on their lives.

Even in a town that only has one business and no stoplights, those concert-goers will have plenty to do.

JT Walker's will set up a beer tent in a park on the southeast corner of town, where several food trucks will also be set up. Route 45 Wayside, the local bar and lone business establishment in the village, will have several musicians performing throughout the day in their outdoor venue.

"This is a once-in-a-lifetime event," Route 45 Wayside owner Lora Witheft said. "I think it's great for the community. I hope everybody gets on board. Most people are on board. I just feel like there are a lot of concerns that are now being addressed ... I'm expecting craziness, putting Pesotum on the map."

That level of activity is by design.

After speaking with colleagues from Effingham and Christian County, which hosted Luke Bryan Farm Tour shows in years past, fire chief Russian wanted to make sure the people flooding Pesotum had something to do.

"They said what happened early in the morning is that people came in with coolers full of beer and ice and had no way to get to food and water," Russian said. "They suggested that we try to get food vendors here, so people have a place to hang out and something to do other than drinking beer all day long and drinking hard liquor all day long. That was my idea, and then the rest of it all blossomed."

Another concern, Russian said, is that crops in the field are highly susceptible to fire, to the point that a flicked cigarette or even a car could make crops go up in flames.

Russian said his department would combine with 10 others to position fire and emergency medical services around the venue and the highways, pre-positioned in case of disaster.

Champaign County chief sheriff's deputy Allen Jones and his department, meanwhile, are partnering with the Champaign, Urbana and University of Illinois police departments, as well as Illinois State Police, to arrange and enforce traffic patterns. Roads will be rerouted, and some will be closed off to direct traffic to and from the venue.

"To be honest with you, I would say, 'Take a U of I football game and put it in the middle of a cornfield, and that's kind of what we're looking at,'" Jones said. "We've just really looked at it like a U of I football game for when we work with them and plan for that. ... Once they get in and everything is self-contained, it's going to be an interesting and unique experience."

The venue, a 20-acre patch of oats and grass just outside of town that Atkins Farm planted in anticipation of the event, has been mowed and is ready for this week's trampling. Luckily, harvest is further along than usual at this time of year, making setup easier. Several semis will pull into town on Thursday, carrying the stage and equipment.

"I'm as curious as everybody else (how it's going to take shape)," said Jim Goss, director of Farm Management for The Atkins Group. "I don't know exactly how this is going to take shape, but I'm not worried about it, because this is not their first time."

And while the swarm of country music fans will certainly disrupt the lives of Pesotum residents for a day, mayor Joyce Ragle said the positives outweigh the negatives.

"We've never really had an event that draws people to our village," Ragle said. "To have people come to our village and look at it and say, 'Hey, maybe this is a place I would like to reside,' that makes us proud for our community."