As Brian Philips, the president of the CMT cable music channel, picked up the phone for an interview, he was distracted by a news alert about the latest setback at the well spewing oil into the Gulf of Mexico.
“How much more bad news from BP can people take?” he mused. “This just hit, and I sent it to Jimmy.”
The remark hinted at an ongoing whirlwind of communication between CMT, superstar Jimmy Buffett and other parties involved in putting on a Thursday beach concert in Gulf Shores.
“It is minute-to-minute,” Philips said.
Philips’ channel will carry a live, commercial-free, 90-minute broadcast of the event, which will star Buffett and special guests Kenny Chesney and Zac Brown.
The concert is a sure blockbuster: More than 1 million people sought the 22,500 free tickets that were snapped up in an instant through Ticketmaster, and beach rental companies are dangling another 12,500 tickets as incentives to lure tourists.
But it’s also a monumental challenge to put the show together on short notice.
“To give you the exact timeline,” Philips said, “we literally made the connection the night of the CMT Awards, which was June 9.”
That meant that the day after CMT staff members put on “the biggest production of their lives,” he said, they were being turned on a dime for the Buffett show.
“We’re sending everybody,” Philips said. “It takes an army to make a show this big.”
A.J. Niland of Mobile-based HUKA Entertainment said he expects that by Thursday, the ranks of event workers will have surpassed 700, maybe 900. That includes those managed by HUKA, which is in charge of the site and infrastructure; the contingent from CMT; Buffett’s touring entourage; and a sizeable security team.
Niland said the show owes a lot to the recent Hangout Beach, Music & Arts Festival, which HUKA also produced. That experience, he said, helped HUKA convince Buffett’s team that the Gulf Shores beach was a viable location.
“Shows on the beach are very, very rarely done anywhere,” Niland said of large-scale events like the Hangout fest. “It’s not an ideal venue. We made it an ideal venue.”
Niland, like Philips, described Buffett as being extremely selective about where and when he plays.
“It’s important to them that the fans get the best Buffett experience,” Niland said. “We’re creating Margaritaville on the beach, for sure.”
Mike Foster, marketing manager for the Alabama Gulf Coast Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Buffett’s emphasis on quality was a major factor in determining how many concert-goers could attend.
The stage and sound system can only be so big, he noted.
Niland speculated that if the show were open to all, 200,000 fans might have tried to jam in. But a crowd that size would require video and sound production far beyond what was possible, to say nothing of the safety and traffic issues.
“It has to be a safe, enjoyable experience,” he said.
He said he hopes that fans won’t try to crash the show or hang around the outside of the perimeter fence. “We really, really recommend that if they don’t have a ticket, they watch it on TV,” he said.
According to organizers, Marine Police and other agencies will enforce a 500-foot no-boating zone adjacent to the concert grounds on the day of the show.
CMT’s broadcast will start at 7 p.m. Thursday. It will then rebroadcast an edited version at 6 p.m. Friday; 8:30 p.m. July 3; 1 p.m. July 4; and 10:30 a.m. July 5.
The concert will be carried live on Radio Margaritaville, which can be heard via Sirius and XM satellite radio and at www.radiomargaritaville.com. CMT will also stream video of the show at www.CMT.com.
The Buffett concert will also be shown on a 20-foot-by-16-foot screen at a beach block party in downtown Foley, according to information provided by that city.
Foley and Riviera Utilities are presenting the free event from 5 to 9 p.m. in Heritage Park. The fun will feature a variety of attractions, including music, children’s activities and a manmade beach area.