By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
GLEN LYN, Va. —
Since they established the Second Chance Learning Center in 2008 in order to give Tazewell County, Va., public school students a chance to overcome challenges and earn their high school diplomas, Erik Robinson and Billy Wagner have worked to make the program a success. The task has not been easy.
After just two years in operation, Robinson and Wagner came up with an idea of how to raise funds for Second Chance, and to provide a fundraising vehicle for other human service agencies of the two Virginias that often wind up spending as much time raising money as they do on providing services. The idea that the two Ferrum College roommates cooked up was to stage a country music concert event at Mitchell Stadium, and enlist the help of community service agencies as well as the community to stage the event.
The first Second Chance Rocks The Two Virginias concert on July 16, 2011, featured Dierks Bentley, Brantley Gilbert, Montgomery Gentry, Justin Moore, Easton Corbin, Craig Morgan, Taylor Made and absolutely thrilled the Mitchell Stadium crowd. Staging the first concert proved to be a valuable learning experience for Robinson and Wagner, and the second, Second Chance Rocks the Two Virginias concert featuring Eric Church, Jake Owen, Lee Brice and more scheduled for June 29, 2012 appeared to be on its way to being an even better show than the first go-round.
Boy, it was hot! So hot in fact that the Greater Bluefield Chamber of Commerce served lemonade on June 29, 2012, because the thermometer on June 28, 2012 reached 92 degrees — the hottest day in Bluefield during the month of June on record. The new record didn’t last long. When Andy Crawford performed as one of the opening act, the temperature was over 92, and when Folk Soul Revival took the stage the local temperature was 97. Paramedics had more than 30 concertgoers in the home locker cooling them down and giving them fluids.
But then, the winds came.
“Last year was crazy,” Robinson said, reflecting on the concert that attracted a record crowd of 18,036 people, only to have them evacuate the stadium just minutes before a fast-moving derecho rushed through the region, packing 80-mile-per-hour winds and leaving a swath of misery in its wake. Communities throughout West Virginia were powerless for days and service restoration personnel were pushed to their limits.
“Billy and I were sitting on a golf cart watching the huge tent we had set up in the Mitchell Stadium parking lot come up, and go down ... Come up, and go down. It was surreal. The people were exiting the stadium, and I remember thinking that they could get hurt if the tent collapsed on them. But then, it was like an act of God,” Robinson continued. “The tent split at the seams, and the air could go through.
“I’m still amazed that first responders were able to evacuate as many people as they did in that short period of time and no one was hurt,” Robinson said. “The wind was so strong that it moved 5,000-pound Jersey blocks seven yards. I don’t know how the rescue squad got 18,000 people out of the stadium safely without having any injuries.”
Of course, the next morning, Robinson was taxed with the challenge of deciding how to move forward. “That’s why I went out the next morning and started stacking chairs,” Robinson said. “I needed to do something that didn’t require me to think,” he said. “Fold a chair, stack a chair. Fold a chair, stack a chair. It was about all I could do at the time.” Within minutes, volunteers from throughout the community joined Robinson in folding and stacking chairs. About eight weeks later, thousands of fans returned to Mitchell Stadium on Sunday, Aug. 26, and Eric Church put on a great show to the delight of the faithful fans.
With the 2012 concert now in the rear view mirror and with a second wind filling Second Chance’s sails, the Robinson-Wagner team is ready to Rock the two Virginias again with an incredible high-energy show featuring Justin Moore, Craig Campbell, Shooter Jennings, Clare Dunn, Folk Soul Revival and DJ Silver. The gates to the stadium open at noon with a reconfigured VIP section for sponsors as well as $35 admission charge for everyone and bring-a-lawn-chair seating on the June O. Shott Field.
“We just see this as a highly energized show,” Robinson said. “Everyone in Nashville is really high on Clare Dunn. She’s on the verge of breaking into the big time. I just love Folk Soul Revival. They came out to the coal rally concert down in Buchanan County last fall and opened for Charlie Daniels.
“Shooter ... We never know what’s going to happen when he goes on stage, but that’s the fun of it,” Robinson said. “Craig Campbell played at our gala last year. Craig is the NRA Country Artist for the month of June. Justin (Moore) and Billy are a lot alike. Justin has three or four hits now. He and Billy just hit it off right.”
In addition to the A-list of entertainers, DJ Silver will provide a cool mix of music between acts. “The show starts at 1:30 and doesn’t finish until 11 p.m., but DJ Silver will keep things moving between acts. It’s fun! He plays a great mix of music that fits in. We were lucky to get him.”
Robinson said that ticket sales have picked up in recent weeks. “Justin’s new song is rolling up the charts,” Robinson said. “Hopefully, we’re getting all of these acts at the right time as their careers are starting to take off.”
James Otto, a part of the Music Mafia, will be performing for the Concert Gala at Fincastle on the Mountain on June 28. “He does acoustic versions of his songs and puts on a great show. I think all of the concert sponsors will enjoy the evening.
“We had a lot of help in the past two years from the other non-profit organizations that we work with,” Robinson said. “One of those non-profit agencies made $11,000 last year. That’s what Billy and I always wanted this to be — an event that local not-for-profit agencies of our area could raise funds to keep their agencies going.”
The financial crunch caught up with Second Chance last year, and the setback prompted the organization to close its Tazewell, Va., location for a time. Robinson said that the closure caused the number of students Second Change served this year down from the 53 students they served in 2012. “We hope to find a downtown location for Second Chance in Tazewell,” he said. “We hope to reopen Tazewell in the fall.”
Robinson said that he’s still most proud of the students who come through Second Chance and move to the next level. “I’m on the board of Southwest Virginia Community College,” he said. “Last year, one of our students looked over at me as he was receiving his diploma and said: ‘Erik, I did it!’ That caused me to give a little cheer.”
“Dr. (Mark) Estep (Southwest Virginia Community College president) looked over and asked me if that was one of mine,” Robinson said. “When I said it was, he reacted with a yell just like I did. With the work we do, many of the students go on to Southwest. We have great relations with Southwest and with Bluefield College.”
Robinson said that the service providers can’t believe the way that the local community pitches in to help with the concerts. “A guy from Capital Party said that he works with many communities but the level of community cooperation that he sees here is not seen in any other community,” Robinson said. “He told me: ‘Don’t ever move.’ He said that what he sees here is not seen anywhere else.”
Robinson said that Bluefield College will have parking space and there will be shuttle buses running again this year. “Sam’s Club will be cooking food for my volunteers all day long on the day of the concert. Food City is giving us 25-30 cases of water and Rick and Della Compton of Fincastle on the Mountain have been great to work with. The Tazewell County board of supervisors and the town of Bluefield, Va., came through when we really needed. It is amazing to me how much of this has become a community event.”
Two weeks before the 2012 concert, no one could have predicted how that concert would unfold, but one thing is certain about this year’s show — Second Chance is ready to Rock the Two Virginias one more time.
— Contact Bill Archer at email@example.com