BROWNSVILLE — Central Linn residents may be looking at a whole lot more requests for pop cans and car wash donations once the Bi-Mart Willamette Country Music Festival leaves town.

That's the word from John Neal of the Central Linn Booster Club, who said he hopes if the four-day country music festival does move as planned to Marion County, other nonprofits will benefit the way his has.

"We have been so blessed to have been given this opportunity and have enjoyed working with the festival for the past 11 years," Neal said in an email to the Democrat-Herald. "They have been good to us and we have benefited greatly from this. The loss of this event will be huge for our community and I hope wherever they end up, they can continue supporting the local people there."

At a public meeting Nov. 2 in Jefferson, Anne Hankins, owner and president of Willamette Country Music Concerts Inc., told the audience the festival is working with Marion County on a large-gathering permit and was hoping to hear back within 45 days.

That's good news to Joe Davis, president of the Jefferson High School Booster Club. He was in the audience and said he looks forward to hearing more.

"I'd known the relationship the Central Linn Booster Club had with the festival, and of course things started turning in my head right then about the possibilities," Davis said.

In contrast to Central Linn's organization, which helped benefit clubs, activities and music programs in addition to sports, Jefferson's Booster Club is strictly for athletic programs, Davis said. But because the festival could be a benefit to so many groups, he said he'd like to follow a suggestion made by a woman at the public meeting and come to the festival as a group.

"There’s other needs at the school and around town. If we could sit down and see what they have to offer and maybe coordinate with the groups ... everybody could share in the wealth, so to speak," Davis said.

Setting up each summer on farm fields east of Brownsville, the country music festival has helped support Central Linn activities by allowing students to sell tickets in advance and keep part of the proceeds. 

Students also worked at the festival, selling ice, hauling trash and performing other duties.

It was hot, dusty and physically demanding, Neal said, but in addition to earning money, the effort also gave teams, parents, teachers and coaches a chance to spend time together and bond in different ways.

On the economic side, every team or club that signed up and worked a shift at the event received $1,000, Neal said. That was put directly into their school accounts to cover expenses.

"We have paid for uniforms, stage curtains, pitching machine and batting cage, basketball return system, a tumble track for cheer, equipment for football, a reader board for our school and various other needs," Neal said. "We also have been able to provide scholarships to any child that qualifies for free/reduced lunches to be able to play sports on the teams here at Central Linn."

Neal estimated the Booster Club will lose approximately $50,000 per year when the festival relocates. The club never stopped holding an annual auction, however, so that's one potential backfill, he said.

"The financial loss will be huge for our school, but we will do what we have had to do in the past and figure out a way to make sure the needs of our students are met," he said.

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