Organizers eye Rock County airport for concert event

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Jim Leute
Thursday, March 13, 2014

JANESVILLE—Rock County officials say they need more answers before agreeing to lease land at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport for a rock concert.

Representatives of WJJO, a Madison-based radio station, have approached county officials about the possibility of staging an event in a grassy area along the airport's eastern border with Highway 51.

For several years, WJJO has held the hard rock Band Camp at Willow Island, adjacent to the Alliant Energy Center in Madison.

Last year's event on Aug. 17 attracted more than 10,000 people. Headlining acts included Sevendust, Jackyl, Pop Evil, Asking Alexandria and Nonpoint.

“They approached us last year about having the event here, but the time frame was fairly short, and the county turned it down because we felt all of our questions could not be answered,” said Craig Knutson, Rock County administrator.

“They've approached us earlier this year for a possible event in August.”

A WJJO representative said in an email the station has been in talks with the airport as well as city and county officials regarding "an event" in Janesville. 

"The airport as well as the sheriff, fire, EMT, city officials, the chamber and police have all been a great help to us as we consider the possibility of doing an event at the airport," Randy Hawke, WJJO operations manager/program director said in the email.

Hawke did not refer to the possible Rock County event as Band Camp, but he did write: "to say we are moving Band Camp is not accurate."

He did write that the event, if it happens, would be a concert that at this point has no name.

Hawke wrote that it has not yet been determined whether there will be a 2014 version of Band Camp in Madison or Dane County. That's not unusual, he added, because last year's event was not announced until June.

Knutson said the county will need answers to some specific questions.

“What type of event is it? What are the numbers of people involved? What will security be, and what effect will it have on local law enforcement and the airport itself?” Knutson said. “We need those answers before we can consider agreeing to it.”

Christine Rebout, executive director of the Janesville Area Convention & Visitors Bureau, has been involved in one meeting and several phone calls about the potential event.

She said organizers said they like Rock County and its position to draw concertgoers from Chicago and Dubuque, Iowa.

“It's a big event, and it would certainly be something different for us,” she said, adding that bands, support crews, sponsors, vendors and attendees could have a significant impact on the city's supply of hotel rooms, which currently stands at about 750.

Rebout said the airport has a history of attracting large crowds for specific events, specifically the Southern Wisconsin AirFest, which is unlikely to return for a variety of reasons.

“We've kind of established the model for easy-in, easy-out with AirFest,” she said. “It's a big field, but you can build whatever type of pop-up infrastructure you need.

"I would certainly agree with the county that we need to know what the impacts will be on local law enforcement and other services.”

Knutson said the site under consideration is well away from the main site for AirFest, which was near the airport terminal and hangars.

“Any decision certainly would involve our public works committee, which oversees the airport, and input from the sheriff's office and city on other services affected,” he said.

Hawke said Rock County and Janesville have always been an important part of WJJO's listening audience. 

"We want to be a part of creating growth and success to the area and believe that we can bring a great event to the area that will be good for the economy, draw people from all over the country to Rock County and be an asset to the region," he wrote, reiterating he cannot confirm an event in Rock County for this summer.

"We can confirm that we are working with people on the idea of an event and that we really want to do an event there."

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