JACKSONVILLE — Riley Green’s concert at Jacksonville State University Friday night managed to sell all 3,500 seats the football stadium could afford in light of social distancing.
Green performed at his alma mater to raise money for the university athletics program, which has had its budget wrung out by a diminished presence of football, baseball and other sports this year. Burgess-Snow Field usually has a capacity of 20,000, but social distancing safety measures led school COVID-19 preventionist Jeff Ryan to levy a seating cap at 3,500.
As his opening acts started the show, Green told reporters at the stadium fieldhouse he was glad to give folks a chance to get out and hear some live music — something 2020 has been lacking all across the country.
“I don’t really know that there’s a time more than now that we need something positive, after such a tough year,” said Green, an Academy of Country Music award-winning country singer and former JSU quarterback. “I’m happy to be able to do it and have people who are smarter than me figure out how to make it safe and let people go out and enjoy it for a night.”
Green’s fans showed out. Parking was less wild than it might have been without the stadium’s diminished capacity, but seats were full, facing a stage set up on the field. Guys with straight backs, broad shoulders and camouflage ballcaps strode through the stadium gates beside girls in western boots and cowboy hats. The line to get a can of beer stretched about six million people long from the lone concession stand on the stadium’s west end, beneath the bleachers, but fans seemed fine with the wait.
Masks weren’t a popular accessory, even with cases of the coronavirus kicking up again in Calhoun County and nationwide.
But the concert would be key to keeping JSU athletics healthy, said Ed Lett, director of athletic development and marketing at the college.
“This fills in the blank,” Lett said at the fieldhouse. “It’s definitely a help for us that Riley is generous enough to do this.”
Green’s concerts have been a meaningful component in the school’s recovery since the March 2018 tornado that ripped through buildings on campus. Lett said last year Green donated $80,000 in proceeds from his concert, leading the school to name its athletic weightroom at Stephenson Hall the Riley Green Athletics Sports Performance Center.
“He did the concert for basically nothing,” Lett said.
Fans waiting for Green to take the stage might have been glad to hear about the country music man’s generosity, but they were more excited simply to be at a concert, especially one headlined by Green.
“He’s the man,” said Chance Holloway, a fan from Carrollton, Ga., who first heard Green play a show in Rome a couple years back. He said he follows Green as much as he can, because at that Rome show Green had hung out and made small talk with fans at the stage, which made an impression on Holloway.
“He’s gonna make it big,” Holloway said. “If y’all think this is big, just wait. Give him a year.”