CENTRAL POINT — With no more signs of livestock or carnival rides from last month’s Jackson County Fair, The Expo on Thursday afternoon was a sea of cowboy boots, straw hats and country music fans.
Country Crossings Music Festival, where the beer starts to flow at noon and the music goes on until midnight, debuts its first event in Central Point this week. Organizers expect a crowd of 20,000 people, including die-hard fans — and new faces from Southern Oregon.
Veterans of country music festivals, the Vessels, Hearne and Skinner families have been camping out together the last three years when the festival was held near Cape Blanco. Growing up in Southern Oregon with country music, the families have turned summer music festivals into their family reunion — and sometimes a big celebration.
“We always have these gatherings of 50-60 people,” Patty Hearne said. “But for music festivals, everyone tries to make it out here. It’s gradually become a thing we do every year.”
The music is what draws them in, but the family bonds are what keep them coming back. When asked what they are most excited about, Ellen Vessels said, “family,” while her granddaughter Jennifer Miller said, “it’s about making memories.”
Tony Apostalo said his family also follows the music to Central Point. Hand in hand with his wife, Marlene, Tony said the festival is a family tradition.
“Last year we took our grandson for the first time,” Marlene said. “And he loved it.”
"Kenny Chesney was his favorite," Tony said, showing off his Kenny Chesney shirt from last year’s festival.
A Grants Pass couple, embracing the blazing afternoon sun in front of the main stage, said it’s their first time at a four-day music festival. Stephanie Potter said they are also volunteering at the festival to help raise money for her son’s marching band.
“We’re on trash duty, so we'll be out here picking up trash tomorrow morning,” she said with a laugh. ”But we’re also looking forward to all the performances as well.”
Her partner, Angie Potter, said she grew up with country music. She said she’s excited to see Saturday’s headliner, Chris Stapleton, for the first time.
Eugene residents Madison Casares, 17, and Sophie Randle, 16, both with red flannel tied by their hips and brown cowboy boots on their feet, said they were camping out with Randle family.
“We are really excited about the music,” Randle said. “I love Luke Bryan.”
“Also just to hang out and make memories, you know,” Casares said.
The two teenagers headed off into the 90-degree heat to get snow cones to cool off. Under a shady tree, a couple took the opportunity for a midday nap. The main stage field was spotted with only about a dozen families Thursday afternoon, but that was temporary, Patty Hearne said.
“It will get crazier,” she said. “At least with our family, we bring it all out.”
— Reach reporting intern Tran Nguyen at email@example.com or 541-776-4485. Follow her on Twitter at @nguyenntrann.