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COVID-19 or a never-issued permit? Confusion remains as to why the Blue Ridge Country Festival was actually postponed

We break down this confusing situation in Pittsylvania County

It’s not COVID-19, rather, it’s pulled permits that caused this weekend’s Blue Ridge Country Festival to be postponed, according to Pittsylvania County officials.
It’s not COVID-19, rather, it’s pulled permits that caused this weekend’s Blue Ridge Country Festival to be postponed, according to Pittsylvania County officials.

PITTSYLVANIA COUNTY, Va. – It’s not COVID-19, rather, it’s pulled permits that caused this weekend’s Blue Ridge Country Festival to be postponed, according to Pittsylvania County officials.

“At the request of local health officials, Blue Ridge Country Festival slated for October 1st-3rd 2021 will be postponed to May 13th-15th, 2022 due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” that’s what the Blue Ridge Country Festival said in an email sent to ticket purchasers on Monday.

When 10 News reached out to the Virginia Department of Health about the postponement, we received this response, “VDH did not cancel the Blue Ridge Country Festival, nor did we request that the promoters do so.”

On Tuesday, 10 News received a copy of the letter from Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman to Jon Slye, the CEO of the Blue Ridge Country Festival, on Sept. 21.

Smitherman sent this letter after consulting with the Pittsylvania County Sheriff, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health, VDOT and other regulatory agencies, according to a statement provided by the county.

“The purpose of this letter is to inform you that all permits related to the Blue Ridge County Festival are hereby rescinded...” is how it begins.

The letter claims Slye did not provide “sufficient or approved plans” for a variety of essentials to the festival, such as traffic, parking, camping and security.

The letter asked Slye to submit seven things by Thursday, Sept. 23, in order for the festival to happen.

The letter also stated that until the County received full proceeds from the Meals Tax related to the Worship at the Mountain and Blue Ridge Rock Festival, no permit would be issued.

Those funds were due on Sept. 17 although Smitherman did note that there had been miscommunication about paying this tax, according to the letter.

If Slye didn’t pay all his outstanding bills to the county, an additional $500,000 bound would be required for the Blue Ridge Country Festival.

Smitherman concluded his letter informing Slye that there would be a meeting on Sept. 24 to review all his plans for the festival and that “failure to adequately respond or attend will indicate your intention to not hold the Blue Ridge Country Festival.”

[Thousands of Blue Ridge Rock Festival goers call event complete chaos]

On Tuesday afternoon, Pittsylvania County released a statement with regards to the postponement of the festival.

In it, the county explains that back in June, the Board of Supervisors approved issuing a permit for the festival; however, in order for an actual permit to be approved, certain conditions needed to be met.

The county claims it never received the “proper plans and final documentation for areas like traffic, parking, camping, and security, among other things,” and therefore, never issued a permit for the festival.

Purpose Driven Events, which operates the festival, also never paid the required permit fee, according to the county.

On the Thursday deadline stated in Smitherman’s letter, Slye told the county “that it was highly likely that the event would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and said that, as a result, he would not move forward with providing the requested documentation. The next day, the event promoter informed Pittsylvania County that he was working with artists and other parties to make a formal postponement announcement, which was released to ticketholders on Monday and the general public today,” according to the county’s statement.

For those who purchased tickets, click here to learn how you can ask for a refund.

Below is a copy of the letter from Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman to Jon Slye:

Below is the statement released Tuesday by Pittsylvania County:

As has been widely reported, the Blue Ridge Country Festival, which was scheduled for this weekend, has been postponed until 2022. During a special called meeting in June, the Board of Supervisors had approved the issuance of a permit for the Blue Ridge Country Festival. This application was approved with conditions around Purpose Driven Events, the company operating the Blue Ridge Ampitheater in Blairs, providing proper plans and final documentation for areas like traffic, parking, camping, and security, among other things. However, those final documents were never provided, Purpose Driven Events never paid the required permit fee, and an actual permit for the event was never officially issued.

Pittsylvania County Administrator David Smitherman, after consulting with officials including the Pittsylvania County Sheriff, Virginia State Police, Virginia Department of Health, VDOT and other regulatory agencies, sent a letter to Purpose Driven Events on Tuesday, September 21 stating that the festival permits were rescinded until updated and complete plans were submitted to the proper agencies. That letter offered Purpose Driven Events several steps to complete by Thursday, September 23 if they wished to move forward with planning their event and obtaining an official permit.

On Thursday, the event promoter informed Pittsylvania County that it was highly likely that the event would be postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and said that, as a result, he would not move forward with providing the requested documentation. The next day, the event promoter informed Pittsylvania County that he was working with artists and other parties to make a formal postponement announcement, which was released to ticketholders on Monday and the general public today.

The Chatham Star Tribune reported that, according to Pittsylvania County and the Health Department, the event organizers provided verifiably false reason as to why the event was canceled. That is incorrect. While the permits for the festival were rescinded, the event promotors stayed in consistent contact with the County and were transparent that COVID implications would likely require postponement of the event. The requested documentation was not provided due to these COVID related concerns.

Caleb K. Ayers, Pittsylvania County Public Relations Manager

Below is the statement 10 News received from VDH:

For events and festivals, such as the Country Music Festival, the local health department would be involved in permitting food vendors and the associated temporary or permanent campground.

1. Prior to the event, a plan review would need to be submitted for food vendors and the proposed campground(s).

2. Once the plans were approved according to regulations, site visits would be conducted for a preliminary inspection and permitting.

3. Permits are issued when the event participants (food vendors and/or campground) are inspected and in compliance with the regulations.

4. If, after permitting, an onsite inspection finds issues of non-compliance, the inspection observations could warrant the event to take corrective actions, or could result in a written notice of alleged violations. At that time the Health Department Official would give guidance on proper procedures to correct the violations in accordance with Virginia Regulations.

As far as COVID-19 is concerned, without a Governor's Declaration of Emergency stopping all public gatherings, the Health Department can only advise on a disease status within the community in question. The event or venue must make the decision of their own accord. The Health Department will gladly educate on COVID-19 issues for any event organizers.

Any outdoor gathering can pose a significant risk of transmission. All it takes is one infected participant shedding the virus with close contact for 15 minutes or more to share. The cheering of that one person in a tight group will push the perimeter of potential exposures. One infected person in a crowd can create a domino effect; they infect event goers and event goers take it home to family and friends.

We still recommend wearing masks, washing your hands regularly, social distancing and getting vaccinated.

Virginia Department of Health

About the Authors:

Jeff Williamson arrived at WSLS 10 in March 2016.

Kortney joined the 10 News team as a Lynchburg Bureau Reporter in May 2021.