Bear Jam 2019

Christian music artist Ryan Stevenson performs at Bear Jam 2019.

It rained for days leading up to Saturday’s Bear Jam concert; Saturday was soggy, too.

But wet weather didn’t bother concert organizers and volunteers who knew they would be high and dry. Earlier this year, the venue for annual Christian music concert was moved from the Bland County High School football field to Wythe County’s Appalachian Regional Exposition Center. So, for the first time, the event was held indoors.

“We were heartbroken to have to move it, but God knew in January that it was going to be raining in June,” said Dee Dee Hoosier, executive director of the Bland County Ministry Center, which sponsored the concert along with Spirit FM radio. “If we had not changed the venue, Saturday would have been the last Bear Jam; I can guarantee that. We would have still had to pay the bands, even if no one showed up.”

But people did show up – more than 800 people either brought lawn chairs to sit on the arena floor or slide into stadium seating. Concert-goers lined up for barbecue, hot dogs, fries, burgers and more from the concessions stands, Piggalicious and Sliders and More. They also bought T-shirts and mingled with friends in the concession area.

Marion’s Forsaken Hero started the night off, followed by Caitie Hurst and headliner Ryan Stevenson.

“It was amazing,” Hoosier said. “The staff there is phenomenal,” she said. “They came in and worked with us and honored the contract we executed with the previous management company. They were so easy to work with. They took ownership of our event and were as concerned about our success as we were.”

The center recently cut ties with a management company so it could hire its own staff.

Before the event, APEX General Manager Kristina Smith said in an email that the center was excited to host its first concert.

"The Bland Ministry Center offers a number of important services to Southwest Virginia residents and we are honored to partner with them,” she said. “Our dirt floor arena provides a quality experience for musical acts and we are excited to showcase what the building can do. Serving people plus a night of great music - it's a win win!"

The compact dirt floor was covered with a tight, heavy tarp.

Hoosier said the concert, which the ministry center considers an outreach project, broke even, which is all it aims to do.

With Bear Jam 2019 in the books, it’s time to start thinking about Bear Jam 2020.

Hoosier said she plans to ask the ministry center board to agree to the concert for next year, and she would like to use the APEX Center again.

“I’m the least apprehensive I’ve ever been to ask the board to have it again,” she said, adding that she also had tremendous support from more than 50 volunteers, including Bland County Sheriff’s Office deputies – Jason Ramsey, Chief Deputy Jerry Turpin, Eric Milliner and Bland County Animal Control Officer Brandon Blevins - and Wythe County Sheriff chaplain and Wytheville minister Donn Sunshine.

“We were so glad to be able to give the volunteers better working conditions,” Hoosier said. “It would have been hard on any of us to try to do it in the rain. It was really nice. I milled around and talked to people, and they were so thankful they were not sitting out in the rain.”

To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 276-228-661, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com.

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