Great Words of Hope from the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park’s James Cornett
Back in May, which seems now light-years ago in terms of the effect that COVID-19 has had on the nation, the world, and the music industry, we were pleased to share the resilient story of how the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park in Live Oak, Florida, home to dozens of festivals and music events, had been able to repurpose their business model to keep all of their employees working. Rex Thompson of Live for Live Music and our friend sent us this new press release with his remarks:
On Tuesday, July 8, James Cornett, President and CEO of the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, wrote an open letter to the music scene in an effort to share a bit more positivity in this bleak time. He has managed to keep the park open and viable through all this by repurposing and focusing on the camping. At the same time, he’s going into his pocket to improve the venue for whenever we DO finally get past this troubling time. I just wanted to share his upbeat words of keeping the faith with the people. I included a couple shots that show our sadly empty stage and some of the construction we’ve undertaken.
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 8, 2020
In this time of massive uncertainty in the music industry, I wanted to share a hopeful story of a venue staff adapting to this difficult situation. My name is James Cornett, President & CEO of the Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park, a year-round campground that hosts a variety of music festivals, large and small. My parents founded this Park, and making it the best place to hear live music it can possibly be has been a true family endeavor ever since.
In mid-March I was faced with the most difficult decision of my professional life. With just a few short days before load-in for our Suwannee Spring Reunion event and state guidelines still allowing shows, we decided to put the health and safety of our patrons above profit. Though I have long gone by the age old adage “The show must go on,” mounting medical evidence made it obvious to me large-scale gatherings were simply not feasible.
As the lockdown intensified nationwide, other Suwannee events were rescheduled for later in the year in the interest of public safety. While fans were understandably disappointed, no one was more disappointed than I was and am. In my more than forty years in the music industry I had never cancelled an event. The safety of our patrons will always be my number one priority, and the crisis the world faces is undeniable.
Fortunately, the vast acreage of the Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park has made it possible for us to continue to be of service to our community. Thanks to our many rental cabins and our over 800 improved campsites with electric and water hook-ups, we have been able to give shelter to many full-time recreational vehicle home travelers who found themselves in desperate need of a place to weather the storm. With social distancing measures in place, we have even been able to offer a scaled-back number of guests a chance to enjoy the splendor of nature at its finest.
With our stages idle, our amazingly dedicated staff has sprung into action to help the community and make substantial improvements for the eventual return of our events. When it became clear that the world-wide shortage of face masks was putting local residents at risk, we saw an opportunity to help. Our front office manager, Carol Walker, a former professional seamstress, quickly trained our workers in the art of mask-making. Our onsite SOS Cafe & Music Hall was quickly repurposed into an assembly line, and they have managed to turn out more than 7,000 masks to date.
I’ve been a proponent of hand sanitizer use for years, thanks to a doctor who took the time to explain just how effective using it alongside regular handwashing can be to stop the spread of viruses. We ordered in thousands of personal-use spritzer bottles, filled them with a rubbing alcohol solution, and made them available to guests and staff alike. Possible areas of community spread like our iconic Chapel, bathhouses, and pool were closed immediately and thoroughly scrubbed. Our cleaning staff has worked around the clock to make sure every square inch of our park, from the cabins to our Country Store, offices and beyond, are as sanitary and safe as humanly possible.
Since the restaurant and bath houses were closed for obvious health and safety reasons, the Park General Manager, Teena Peavey, organized the Suwannee staff to take full advantage of the downtime to undergo extensive remodeling of Park buildings. New paths are being cleared, and the Park itself has bloomed throughout the spring stronger than ever. When the Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park fully re-opens, guests can expect substantial improvements to our facilities that simply weren’t feasible due to our packed schedule of events.
Make no mistake… I am fully aware of our unique situation in facing this crisis and am truly humbled at the enduring resilience of the venue my family has built. While we are all facing tough times, we here at the Spirit Of The Suwannee Music Park are extremely proud of our efforts to pivot from our standard business model while still serving our original core purpose: Providing guests with a fantastic way to embrace nature and experience the world’s original social distancing activity… camping!
Someday, hopefully sooner than later, live music events WILL return, and we here at The Spirit Of Suwannee Music Park will be as joyous as anyone. Until that wonderful day we will strive to provide our patrons with a safe, secure place to enjoy some of life’s simpler pleasures that we sometimes disregard in this fast paced world. My truest wish is that, in surviving this pandemic’s test of our society that we will see more examples of love and community like the one I have seen from our staff these last few months. We truly ARE all in this together.