Spring has freakin’ sprung. We’re covered in pollen, hardly able to breathe, but we still want to get outside, make some memories and enjoy the weather before Augusta turns into a sweaty furnace of molten lava and mosquitoes for five months.
On post this weekend there’s a chance to do all that without having to pay a penny to get in. It might not occur to everyone to look to Fort Gordon for a weekend of entertainment, but the CSRA is known for its support of the military; there’s no good reason for not heading out there. The Fort Gordon Annual Spring Fest is open to the public and a lot is happening — from live music and entertainment, to fair rides, a car, truck and bike show and a huge flea market, this event has a ton to offer.
Entertainment Director Steve Walpert manages all of the performances and artists at the annual event. He says Spring Fest is a unique opportunity for the military, their families and the community at large to enjoy quality, fun, live entertainment.
But, the first thing you need to know is that getting through Gate 1 is not a problem; drivers need a valid license, proof of insurance and their vehicle’s registration. Events such as Fort Gordon’s Independence Day Celebration often attract tens of thousands of visitors, and the gate guards are focused on ensuring minimal frustration with maximum safety. Just give yourself a head start and you’ll be fine.
Access to the event is 100 percent free, and yes that includes parking — however, that doesn’t mean everything is free. Carnival rides, food and drinks, and of course items being sold by vendors are all going to require your cash or credit. And it is highly advisable that you pull your cash out ahead of time, since there’s only one or two ATMs within a comfortable walking distance of the grounds.
Spring Fest takes place on Barton Field over a few days, but for those who haven’t experienced it, the schedule (available on fortgordon.com) can seem rather confusing. On Thursday evening the fair is open for rides with $10 all-you-can-ride armbands, but while the rest of the field may look like it is open for business, it’s not. Not yet.
Friday afternoon is when it all officially kicks off.
The Fest is hosted by Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation, a directorate of the U.S. Army. The directorate can host the event, but it cannot provide everything for free, to include the fair rides. Instead, attendees are encouraged to buy all-you-can-ride armbands which are available for $10 and $20. The event sponsors and vendors will be open for business as of Friday afternoon and the entertainment kicks off at 5.45 p.m. with the Team 15 Talent Show. Extremely talented soldiers from the 15th Regimental Signal Brigade will perform a drill, a ceremony, and a musical talent show.
Saturday morning will be just nuts — one of the biggest flea markets in the CSRA, the Spring Flea Market starts at 9 a.m., and it consistently attracts thousands of people every year. The BOSS Car, Truck and Bike show also starts at 9 a.m. and ends at 3 p.m. The carnival rides start 10 a.m. and go on until midnight, as does pretty much everything else.
From 10 a.m. until early afternoon, Fort Gordon celebrates The Month of the Military Child. The day was created as a special recognition of all that military children endure throughout their parents’ years of service, from regular moves from post to post, to long deployments, hardships and loss.
Month of the Military Child celebrations are designed to give back to these kids and honor their resilience, strength and courage. Month of the Military Child events are not publicized off-post for legal reasons, but a number of musicians and entertainers, including Mark Lippard, Rick Hubbard, and the lovely Tara Scheyer, will perform for some very delighted kids and all other Fest-goers.
During the lead up to Spring Fest, traveling performing arts project the Missoula Children’s Theatre works with local children to cast and perform their version of “The Jungle Book.” The public is welcome to watch the performance, which takes place on the outdoor stage Saturday at 3 p.m.
“All the entertainment is designed specifically to bring joy and enlightenment to our military children and kids from all around the CSRA,” Walpert explained. “It adds so much to their learning potential — adding music to a child’s life enhances their skills — but it is just for fun. These entertainers are very skilled at engaging young audiences and involving them in the performance, which builds self-esteem, self-confidence and the ability to communicate with others.”
But, the big thing is the entertainment. Friday at 7:30 p.m., Augusta’s Ed Turner and Number 9 will take the stage with their Rock and Soul Revue. Popular songs by Chicago, Lynyrd Skynyrd, the Beatles and Jimi Hendrix are just a few of the timeless rock and pop songs on the playlist. Ed Turner will be joined by Zach Swenson, Steve Swenson, Ryan Abel, Michael Vincent Baideme and Phillip Lee, as well as a four-piece horn section led by Dr. Rob Foster. Seating will be set up facing the outdoor stage, from the fest tent to individual chairs and tables, but there’s also plenty of room for dancing.
Then, on Saturday, two major acts will take the stage. Gloriana takes the stage first at 7 p.m. A country rock band featuring the vocal trio of brothers Tom and Mike Gossin and Rachel Reinert, guitars, spoons and a multitude of harmonies, Gloriana has been knocking out hits and racking up awards since their first album in 2009. The current single “Trouble” is the first track from their forthcoming studio album out later this year.
The band was the opening act for Taylor Swift during her 2009 “Fearless” tour, and they have also opened shows for Jason Aldean, Alan Jackson, Brooks & Dunn and the Zac Brown Band. The video for their song “Soldier Song” is a thank you to the military, and features photos of service members of all branches sent to the band by members of the public. Currently touring and performing all over the globe, the trio are not only professionals on stage, but put their heart into connecting with their fans.
The second band, Switchfoot, takes the stage at 8:30 p.m. The alt-rock band from San Diego has enjoyed serious success, particularly with their album “The Beautiful Letdown,” which has since gone double platinum. Their track “Dare You to Move” was a huge hit and got tons of air-time on alternative, pop and rock radio stations everywhere, as did “Mess of Me,” “Dark Horses” and “Afterlife.”
Known for their high-energy live performances, Switchfoot is also dedicated to more altruistic causes, donating to organizations that combat homelessness and help at-risk youth in the San Diego area. In 2005, Switchfoot held its first annual Bro-Am, a day-long event that features a surf contest, gig on the beach, charity auctions and an after-party. Now in its 10th year, Bro-Am has raised nearly $1 million to benefit local charities. “I think we’ve always been drawn to the underdog,” said Switchfoot Bassist Tim Foreman, “and I can’t think of a bigger underdog than a kid who’s fighting for his life at the age of 12.”
Fort Gordon is the first of many tour dates spanning 2015 — the band is playing throughout Europe before joining the Christian rock group Needtobreathe in July to kick off their two-month “Compadres” tour.
Think of it this way: all the entertainers and artists are going to put on a great show and for the price of gas to get on post. To put this further in perspective — a ticket for Ed Turner and Number 9 can run you from $15-$45, while tickets for a Gloriana gig are anywhere from $20-$50. And a stand-alone Switchfoot show is usually about $60 per person. So, even at economy prices, Spring Fest is offering everyone a free show that would otherwise cost them about $100.
Walpert believes it’s going to be an exciting event.
“We can’t wait to share it with everyone,” he said. “The satisfaction that we, as an organization, get out of putting on a giant festival like this with such great entertainment is multi-fold. We get to reach out and connect our military community with our friends from the surrounding area and enjoy a shared experience.”
And if that’s not a good enough reason to celebrate new beginnings, I don’t know what is.
Fort Gordon’s Spring Fest