Epicenter 2020: ROCKINGHAM — The next Epicenter Festival will be held at the Charlotte Motor Speedway after one year at the Rockingham Festival Grounds, the festival’s promoter, Danny Wimmer Presents, announced Wednesday evening.
In their announcement on social media, the festival listed the benefits provided by the Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Rock City Campgrounds which include “nearby lodging, increased camping and convenient travel — giving you more time to rock out all weekend long.”
A spokesperson for the festival added in an email that the move was in response to input from fans.
“The No. 1 request we received from the fans was to move the festival to Charlotte … and we listened,” the spokesperson said. The festival will feature Metallica in May 2020, according to an announcement made Thursday afternoon.
Danny Wimmer Presents had until Sept. 1 of each year of their 10-year contract with the Rockingham Dragway to decide whether they wanted to remain in the contract, according to Dragway owner Steve Earwood. Earwood said the promoters asked for an extension until Oct. 1, which he saw as a potential “ray of hope,” but said he had a “gut feeling” all along that they would move the festival.
The spokesperson for DWP and a spokesperson for the Charlotte Motor Speedway declined to provide details on the value of the contract or how long the contract is.
Following the announcement, Richmond County leaders expressed disappointment with the decision and uneasiness about the future of events at the county’s major racetracks — at least on one side of U.S. 1.
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Chairman of the Richmond County Board of Commissioners Kenneth Robinette and County Manager Bryan Land said Thursday that negotiations were held up with The Rock Speedway and Entertainment Complex. Earwood did not say specifically that The Rock was holding up negotiations, but said that at least one major point of contention in the negotiations was that DWP wanted full control of concessions for the event.
All the stakeholders, Earwood said, had “bent over backwards” to DWP to control concessions, except for one.
“We did everything we could to support (Epicenter) but we didn’t have all the cards … if we did we’d have them back,” Robinette said. He added that an issue with the lease agreement between The Rock and DWP was another point of contention, which he said was going on while the Richmond County stakeholders were competing with the Charlotte Motor Speedway and Darlington.
“(DWP) could never get a firm price from the Speedway,” Robinette said.
The situation also reminded Robinette of how a previous owner of the Speedway, Andy Hillenburg, dealt with event promoters. He said Hillenburg raised the price for an event causing it to move to the Charlotte Motor Speedway, apparently referring to Carolina Rebellion.
“Some people get greedy,” Robinette said Thursday, alluding to those who “aren’t being team players.”
A representative for The Rock did not respond to multiple requests for comment Wednesday evening via text, phone and email Thursday.
Land said in an email that he was “extremely disappointed” in the decision by DWP.
“It is very unfortunate, we have been left at the alter at least three times by different groups,” Land said. “We are very resilient in Richmond County and will keep scrapping.”
Land and Robinette also noted that local hotel prices were a thorn in the promoters’ side, with Robinette condemning “price gouging” by unnamed hotels where festival attendees and staff stayed. It is unclear how much prices were raised.
What’s next for the racetracks?
Earwood said he was in negotiations with a major event promoter and that DWP pulling Epicenter out of Rockingham has “tarnished” those negotiations, but said he’s lost big events before, like the Winston Invitational and, of course, NASCAR. Earwood had already booked two events to replace Epicenter by Thursday morning.
“These events come and go and what you do is you get up the next day and you go to work,” Earwood said.
Addressing the reasons for Epicenter leaving, Earwood said it came down to business rather than the way the festival itself went down. He said the people he and his staff canvassed through one-on-one conversations were having a great time, and many said the amount of space available put the experience over that of Charlotte.
On DWP’s claim that fans wanted the festival to move, Earwood called that “spin.”
“They’re going to put as much spin on it as they can,” he said.
The announcement mentioned “convenient travel” as a reason for the move. Many festival-goers waited up to four hours, while some on social media claimed they waited six hours. These wait times were largely due to there only being one entrance and exit to the festival grounds, a decision DWP made against the advice of the State Highway Patrol.
Earwood pointed to Bonnaroo, which had attendees waiting in traffic for 12 hours, according to The Tennessean, as evidence that long wait times are to be expected at large-scale events.
Robinette said that after plans fell through to hold July 4th celebrations, this year’s Hoptoberfest and future Epicenter events at The Rock Speedway and Entertainment Complex, said he has “major concerns” with the owner of The Rock, Dan Lovenheim, who purchased The Rockingham Speedway in August 2020.