06/25/2007

COUNTRY USA SETS RECORD ATTENDANCE

By Patricia Wolff and Jeff Bollier of The Northwestern Alan Jackson made it official: Oshkosh has "Gone Country." Jackson didn't waste any time getting a crowd tens of thousands strong dancing and screaming to his past and current hits during his Country USA-ending set Sunday night.

With more than 46 million albums sold and more than two dozen number one country hits, Jackson was a natural choice to close out the five-day music festival and the performer Steven Flanagan, Kellie Lundt, Jessical York, Beth Mitchell, Clinton Forsyth, Andrew Moravue and Tyler Boyer, of the Clintonville and Bear Creek areas, had waited for all week.

"This is my first time seeing him," Flanagan said. "He sings his songs just like he always does. He's great."

Green Bay resident Mark Wolfert said has become a regular at Country USA, but Sunday night brought one of his and friend, Neenah resident Rich Klesmit's, favorite performers to the stage.

"Alan Jackson brings it together for me," Wolfert said. "He performs a lot of original country songs, a lot of slow country songs."

Jackson's brand of straightforward, original music sent fans at the festival home on the right note. Jackson's popular songs and style also helped end the five-day festival on a high note.

The new festival grounds helped Country USA set records for attendance, Starshow Presents President Dan Liebhauser said. He estimated attendance at 170,000, about 8,000 higher than last year.

Liebhauser said the event's move to Oshkosh's south side meant trying new things, expanding entertainment, amusement and food options and seeing how well two years of planning and implementation paid off.

"We came close to what we wanted for the first year," Liebhauser said. "We've got some bugs to work out, but we hit more positive targets than negative ones."

Among the things that showed up in the lost-and-found bin at Country USA at the Ford Festival Grounds this year were a few that might be classified as show stoppers.

"The oddest thing so far are the birth control pills," said Jean Helmer of Wisconsin Rapids, a Country USA office employee. "We all had a good laugh over that one."

Someone turned the pills in "right off the bat" on Wednesday, Helmer said.

No one had claimed the pills by Sunday afternoon.

"We figure the baby will be born in March," Helmer said, laughing.

Stay tuned to The Northwestern with one more update from Jeff Bollier after Alan Jackson's performance and see the final story in Monday's Northwestern.

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