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updated: 2/25/2014 7:52 AM

Country act hits the mark for Libertyville music promoter

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  • Cowboy Troy, left, joins John Rich, this past Saturday for the inaugural performance by Big & Rich at Austin's Fuel Arena at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.

      Cowboy Troy, left, joins John Rich, this past Saturday for the inaugural performance by Big & Rich at Austin's Fuel Arena at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.
    Courtesy of Austin's Saloon & Eatery

  • Big & Rich fans enjoy the show this past Saturday at Austin's Fuel Arena at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.

      Big & Rich fans enjoy the show this past Saturday at Austin's Fuel Arena at the Lake County Fairgrounds in Grayslake.
    Courtesy of Austin's Saloon & Eatery

 
 

Aside from some easily made tweaks, such as faster service at the bar, organizers of the inaugural concert at Austin's Fuel Arena this past Saturday were pleased with the outcome.

"I thought we would take it on the chin on this one. It exceeded my expectations," said Mark Khayat, owner of Austin's Saloon & Eatery in Libertyville.

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Khayat took a gamble by expanding his Fuel Room concept into the much larger main hall at the Lake County Fairgrounds at Peterson and Midlothian roads in nearby Grayslake.

He acknowledged before the show that opening night, featuring country duo Big & Rich, would be a test of what may come next.

How would the bands sound in the voluminous 65,000-square-foot expo center? The sound was "way better than I was thinking it was going to be," said John Brodzik, president of the Lake County Fair Association, which operates the facilities and has an exclusive agreement with Khayat for entertainment.

"Everybody was very impressed with the sound," Brodzik said.

Though he is convinced this is a country music market, Khayat fretted about how many fans would journey to central Lake County as he tries to make a dent in the market dominated by Chicago and Milwaukee.

Attendance was about 2,700, including complimentary tickets, for the show that lasted until about midnight. He said the strongest demographic was ages 35 to 44, and fans from Wisconsin and the Rockford area were well represented.

While attendance was in the desired ballpark, another question was how the performers would regard the first-time venue. He said he spoke afterward with John Rich, who "carries a lot of weight" in Nashville.

"He said he would make it his personal mission to help us book some shows here," according to Khayat. He said he will continue to concentrate on country acts.

Kristy Backs, who marketed the event, said improvements for future shows will include a faster will call window and quicker entry into the show. The bar also needs to be rearranged for faster service, she said, although fan feedback has branded the show a hit.

"I have made the appropriate notes to make this happen. I know that our next show will be close to perfect," she told the Daily Herald in an email.

Brodzik said the show went smoothly, especially for the first time.

"I'm anxious for him to have another one here," he said.

Khayat said he will continue to concentrate on country acts for the Fuel Arena, but has not inked a second deal as yet.

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