The harrowing presence of smoke and heat didn’t defer thousands of country music fans from enjoying the first day of this year’s Country Crossings Music Festival.
Despite the triple-digit temperature and at times “unhealthy” air quality settling at The Expo in Central Point Thursday, a light breeze helped festivalgoers hold their spirits high and sing to the live music — without having to cover their faces in a smoke-protective mask.
“The smokiness is actually nice because it helps block the sun out here,” attendee Patrick Renfrew said. “And it seems to be less smoky than it was earlier in the week.”
While Renfrew and Christine Renfrew sat and enjoyed one of the night’s concerts, they said they didn’t feel that protective masks were necessary, as the evening shade and wind helped keep things manageable. At times Thursday evening, air quality was recorded as “moderate.”
The Country Crossings Music Festival, which is expected to draw 20,000 people throughout the four-day event, kicked off at noon Thursday. The festival features a mix of up-and-coming and local performers, as well as headliners Cole Swindell, Alan Jackson, Brad Paisley and Eric Church.
In anticipation of the heat and smoke, Country Crossings set up an on-site mobile hospital staffed with two doctors and numerous other medical staff to care for festivalgoers. Medical personnel will be wandering throughout the grounds at all times, and festival staff consistently will monitor air quality levels.
The mobile hospital has N-95 protective masks that are offered freely to festivalgoers, and about six misting barrels have been set up around the venue for people to cool off.
“We’ve had a ton of people coming in here with heat exhaustion or heat-related problems, but there’ve been little to no respiratory issues all day,” said Linda Shappell, an RN. “It just hasn’t been so smoky today, but we’re prepared for if and when it is.”
Jackson County Public Health and the Environmental Protection Agency have placed an additional air monitor at The Expo to monitor the air quality during the festival, according to a Thursday evening press release.
Shappell estimated that around 50 people had visited the mobile hospital Thursday, most due to heat-related problems. She said very few N-95 protective masks had been given out.
“We have the masks to give out if necessary, but honestly, it hasn’t seemed too bad, so people haven’t needed them,” she said. “Of course, we have them and are making sure people use them correctly if they do take one, and are encouraging people to stay hydrated and come see us often.”
Up-and-coming and local performers played at The Expo’s Boxcar Stage throughout the day Thursday. A fully indoor, air-conditioned building, the room was a popular place Thursday afternoon as festivalgoers sought refuge in the clean, cool air.
Country singer Tyler Rich opened the day’s performances on the Main Stage, singing at 4 p.m. Following was Brett Young at 6 p.m., and headliner Cole Swindell began at 8 p.m. and closed out the night.
But while many endured the smoke with ease and enjoyed Country Crossings as planned, others shared on social media desires to return their tickets in hope for a refund or questioned why the festival wasn’t canceled.
Numerous Facebook users, including Kris Owens, commented that they were selling or have sold their tickets and had new plans to stay home due to the smoke.
“Was in Central Point all day today have to wear a mask it’s horrible. Couldn’t pay me to go so unsafe outside for that long not being able to breathe,” Owens posted Thursday. “Be careful anyone going.”
Yet, Thursday evening saw country-loving crowds enjoying the hot and breezy night of music.
“We are big country fans, and we’re new to the area so love that there’s something we can come to outdoors like this,” Christine Renfrew said. “The smoke and heat haven’t ruined our experience at all.”