VIR addresses Blue Ridge Rock Festival challenges, plans to host next year

Published: Sep. 14, 2023 at 7:46 PM EDT
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HALIFAX COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - The Virginia International Raceway is continuing to pick up the pieces from the storm that swept through the Blue Ridge Rock Festival last Thursday night.

On Saturday evening, the emergency management group made the decision to cancel the remainder of the event causing backlash from fans.

Kerrigan Smith, President of VIR, said the reason for the cancelation was the sudden storm damage and the potential for more rain.

“When I look at where the turning point was for everyone, it was this storm that came out of nowhere,” said Smith. “It was so violent and so fast at once. It was the mass evacuation going so quickly for so many. It was upon you, there was no warning.”

He says they feared that emergency services wouldn’t be able to reach the campers outside of the festival grounds if more rain were to fall due to the limited dirt roads.

“We’re not talking about the the condition of when you look up at the sky. We’re talking about the aggregate of the effects of the weather that happened, people’s equipment damaged, tents destroyed. Then, the deterioration of the fire lanes that we had in those areas to where we were not going to be able to either get them out or access them,” added Smith.

When asked if a possible stagehand strike had anything to do with the cancellation, he said they did not hear about the strike until after they made the call.

“I challenge anybody to present an outdoor facility that can house 40,000 people at a moment’s notice when bad weather comes in. That’s what we ran into. There’s an expectation that, ‘you should have had a shelter to put 40,000 people under.’ Well, I’m sure we’ll all talk about that and look at that, but I don’t know that that’s a reality that exists,” explained Smith.

Overcrowding was also a concern from festival goers, but Smith says they did not have a capacity limit because VIR covers around 1300 acres.

“As a casual bystander looking at ground level, I was like, ‘wow, this does feel different.’ When I look at the drone shots and where people were scattered out, it looks very consistent with what has been talked about and advertised. I haven’t felt that there was a massive overselling of tickets,” said Smith.

Smith says they have a multi-year contract with Blue Ridge Rock Festival. However, he says changes with camping load in, weather protocol, and more discussions need to be had for them to continue to host the festival.

“If it’s not going to be better, we’re not going to do that same event again. If it’s not going to be something different where we know that we can attack some of these problems and address them, we’re not going to go ahead and proceed with that,” added Smith.

Fans have not heard anything regarding refunds, but Smith says he hopes Blue Ridge Rock Fest can come up with a resolution.

We have tried reaching out to Blue Ridge Rock Festival, but VIR says the founder has been instructed by his team not to say anything publicly yet for legal reasons.