'Gentlemen of the Road' concert begins

25,000 expected in St. Augustine this weekend

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. - The party is on in St. Augustine as the Gentlemen of the Road tour fans have taken over the city.

After months of anticipation and preparation, thousands flooded into St. Augustine's Francis Field on Friday afternoon for the first of two days of  concerts.

"It's like the icing on the cupcake," said Brandi Henderson, who traveled from Indiana. "The cupcake is St. Augustine, and the icing's the concert."

With 25,000 people expected this weekend, there's a lot you need to know before you head to the show.

The St. Augustine Police Department says it is on high alert. On Friday night, 60 officers from six agencies were scattered throughout the area. Police want everyone to be safe this weekend and not become a victim of crime. They also wants to make sure people who live there and people visiting are aware of all the changes this weekend.

IMAGES: GOTR invades St. Augustine

The stages are set up and ready to go for the two-day concert event that kicked off in downtown St. Augustine at 6 p.m. with Willy Mason. The main concert will be at Francis Field, but other stages are set up across the city with dozens of other bands playing through Saturday night.

"Absolutely amazing and the city has been doing a fantastic job getting all the nuts and bolts and organizing insanely moving parts to make this happen," said Marshall Peters.

The band fun. canceled its performance because the lead singer said he needed to rest his voice to avoid further cancellations. There are still 11 other bands that will be taking the stage this weekend, including Mumford and Sons, which are scheduled to take the stage at 8 p.m. Saturday.

"Everyone is different. I think what's unique about this one is our location. This destination of St Augustine makes it a true experience," said Jeff Cuellar, of AC Entertainment.

"There's something special here, from the castle to the downtown streets, to the people, businesses, everything," Cuellar said. And I think what people are really going to enjoy across the board is the location. It's something to be celebrated."

If you'll be coming anywhere close to the Old City this weekend, police say you need to be well aware of the amount of traffic that will be there and the roads that will be closed.

"On U.S. 1, behind the venue, Ponce Boulevard we've coned all that off all the way from Old Mission Avenue North of town to the bridge over by the city fire department," St. Augustine police spokesman Mark Samson says. "We just don't want people parking on either side of U.S. 1 and trying to cross those four lanes of traffic to get here."

Samson said about 60 charter buses will work as shuttles, bringing people from several satellite parking areas to downtown for the music festival, or on to the beaches, the outlet mall, and other destinations in St. Johns County.

"The goal is to keep the cars in place and put a system in place that really works for the patron and works for the people who live here, as far as protecting their quality of life and making this a successful event," City Comptroller Mark Litzinger said.

There are three neighborhoods around Francis Field. Officers will be at the front of them, and people who live there have been given colored parking passes so they can get in and out of their homes.

The festival-like concert has come with some roadblocks for people who already had events planned in downtown St. Augustine this weekend. One couple, now Lisa and Trey Gillette, who were married in St. Augustine on Friday night, originally said the concert could ruin their planned wedding.

"I was worried, I was panicking, but everybody made it here and started on time," Lisa said.

The event is also a great opportunity for local businesses and vendors set up all over the field.

A local nonprofit group for kids and teens called Rhinos is in need of a new 15-passenger van for its K-8 after-school program. It has a tent set up to the left of the stage, where it will be selling beverages all weekend. Its goal is to make about $10,000 so it can afford that new van.

"I can kind of see the craziness with the music venue, then also the same time help out Rhinos, which indirectly helps out kids," said Mark Hiers, who heads the nonprofit.

He said it's a win-win situation by getting to enjoy a music festival while also raising money for his organization.

"Well, with 25,000 people and most of them being very thirsty, I think the odds are in our favor," Hiers said of reaching the nonprofit's goal.

Another non-profit ready to help music fans enjoy the event while helping their organization is Young Life, which is opening up their parking lot less than two blocks from Francis Field.  A spot costs $30, but there lot is patrolled by an officer and the money goes to support their program. (Reserve parking spot online.)

Another vendor ready for a big weekend is Bruce Jackson, of Brucci's Pizza. The Jacksonville-based pizzeria got a food truck two years ago, and Jackson said weekends like this are prime time for business.

"I know there's not a lot of vendors out here, not a lot of food vendors, and there's quite a lot of people, so it should be good. That's what were projecting," Jackson said. "We can do as much as we can do. We brought as much possible product as we can get out of this thing, and we have a lot of practice with it."

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