Deep Roots "spectacular," draws an estimated 20,000 festival-goers


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A total of 1,092 days had passed without a Deep Roots Festival in downtown Milledgeville, and people apparently were ready to get back after it.

Saturday's Deep Roots"drew one of the largest crowds ever," according to festival organizers, who estimate that roughly 20,000 people attended the festival at different points during the day and night. The weather – sunny and 75 – certainly helped, as did the free admission during the day.

"Amazing. Just an amazing day," said Carlee Schulte, executive director of Milledgeville MainStreet. "I've already had three different downtown merchants tell me that they had their best sales day ever."

Frank Pendergast, one of the event co-organizers, said that all of the people and all of the congestion was a good problem to have.

"It was great to see so many people, and it brought back a lot of really good memories," he said. "Everything went smoothly, no problems. I thought that the day turned out spectacular."

Compiling a total  head count will be way more difficult and way less scientific this year, as admission was free until 6 p.m. In the past, festival organizers could simply count the number of tickets sold and tickets given away to formulate an attendance number. In the past, however, "we know that 15,000 (people) would be a slow year and north of 20,000 would be a good year," said Pendergast.

"I've been doing this for 19 years, and I'd say that just by my observations, this was one of the (largest turnouts) we've ever had, which would put us somewhere around the 20,000 mark."

Nixed this year was the competition barbecue event, which meant that event organizers had way more available space, which is why the Kids Zone was moved to the library parking lot and made bigger and better than ever. Discontinuing the barbecue competition also meant that streets were able to be closed off on Friday afternoon, as opposed to Thursday afternoon, which had been the case in the past. 

Aside from the free admission during the day, the biggest change at this year's event was the format of the music main stage. Prior to this year's festival, admission into the music main stage area was free and included in the price of the general admission ticket.

For the first time, however, tickets to the music main stage were $30 apiece this year. Pendergast said that "we had good pre-sale (ticket) numbers." Overall, between those purchased in advanced and those sold one the evening of the festival, a total of 1,600-something tickets were sold, half of the goal of 3,000.

As the evening grew longer and the different musical acts finished their sets, however, the crowds began to thin. By the time that headliner Willie Jones took the stage, several hundred concert-goers remained.

"It's safe to say that the headliner didn't have as good of a crowd as we could've liked," Pendergast said. "We're going to have to regroup as a committee and figure out why. But, it's all part of the process, and you learn from experience."


Moving forward, Pendergast said that the "free admission during the day certainly seems like the way to go." For one, not having multiple ticket gates requires significantly fewer volunteers, and volunteers aren't always easy to find. Also, free admission eliminates the need for perimeter fencing, which had always been a large expense for festival organizers. 

Attendance at the evening concert may have been down, but that doesn't take away from everything that led up to that moment. In the end, according to Pendergast, it's all about showcasing downtown Milledgeville and helping out the downtown businesses.

"I've already spoken to five or six (downtown business owners) who said that they had their best Deep Roots ever," he said. "We just look forward to next year's festival being the biggest and best yet."

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