Rock the South Shakes Things Up in Cullman

Rock the South Shakes Things Up in Cullman
Words by Ashley Locke

A 2011 tornado changed Cullman, Alabama forever—but not in the way that you’d expect. After the devastating event destroyed homes and businesses across the region, city leaders knew that the people of Cullman needed something to rally around—something to bring hope, happiness, and healing to a shaken community. Rock the South was born.

Rock the South, known today as the largest country music festival in the South, began as a one-day festival. Its inaugural show, one year after the tornado, featured country singers such as Kellie Pickler, Dierks Bentley, and Jon Pardi. The music brought people from all walks of life together from daylight to dark, and chants and cheers rang through the star-flecked night sky. It was just what Cullman needed to remind the city of its strength and resiliency.

Though the city ran the event its first year, it knew the event could be even better with the right person at the helm. Luckily, they didn’t have to look far. Shane Quick, a Cullman local and Co-Founder of Premier Productions who was actually responsible for naming the festival, had a vision for what the festival could be. He got straight to work. “In its second year, 2013, I made Rock the South a 2-day show,” he said. “We also moved the event from April to June.” 

The changes he made turned Rock the South into a can’t-miss event for country music fans. Not only did the festival become profitable, they were also able to start donating to local charities—an initiative that has led to around one million dollars in charitable donations. Each year the festival grew, attracting attendees from all across the country—but just as the event was beginning to reach its stride, the world shut down. 

The COVID pandemic did a number on all types of businesses, but the service and entertainment industries were hit the hardest. Restaurants closed, concerts were canceled, and events were put on indefinite holds. While many felt frozen during the chaotic and unpredictable time, Quick chose to use the pause to innovate. He brought on Good Grit Agency to rebrand and reinvigorate the festival for its 2021 comeback. 

GGA understood the task that stood before them. Rock the South had a loyal fan base and a legacy, and the 2021 festival would be a callback to the very first one—bringing a community together again after tragedy. Their team began by designing a new logo and branding, then carrying the new look and feel through the website, social media content, digital ads, and billboards. They brought the social channels back to life, including creating a TikTok account, using them as an opportunity to bring fans into the conversation beyond festival season. They built a network of influencers and micro influencers, then implemented a marketing strategy that included text campaigns, social media advertising, SEO, and email marketing, and more. “Their understanding of marketing—the creative team, from writing to graphics to visuals to videos—I do events all over the country and have been doing it most of my life, and this is the best thing we’ve ever had to assist us,” said Quick. 

Because of the campaign, Rock the South 2021 was set up for success. A full crowd showed up to see Luke Combs, Miranda Lambert, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and more. Unfortunately, the weather didn’t cooperate. Heavy rain delayed several sets on day one of the event, and left the field muddy. Throughout the weather, the Good Grit Agency team was onsite to communicate updates with attendees through social media and stage announcements. A handy crew was able to cover the mud with gravel for day two, and the event ended successfully—but it left a challenge for the next year. 

“We’ve had hard times with weather and covid, and we’ve been thrown some curve balls, but people are still loyal to Rock the South because the Good Grit Agency helps us keep a constant connection with the fan,” said Quick. “We don’t just sell them something—we communicate our message, philosophy, and style throughout the year. The attention to detail, staying on brand, and staying in front of people—you can’t put a number on how important that is. ” 

Despite the bad weather lingering in people’s memories, Good Grit Agency was focused on keeping the best parts of the Rock the South story at the forefront. The 2022 festival landed during rush week, so the team rebranded the festival to appeal toward an audience that skewed older. With photo and video content captured onsite in 2021, the team was able to showcase the experience of the festival throughout their marketing. Their work resulted in over 1.1 million website hits, a 30% increase in ticket sales, and over 25,000 new followers across social channels. After the event, Good Grit’s exclusive Rock the South merch launched online and racked up over $5,000 of sales in the first three hours. “Good Grit Agency is helping us create a model to scale and build all over the country,” said Quick.

The growing audience isn’t just good for the festival—it’s changing the landscape of Cullman. “You can feel investment in the air—whether they’ve been inspired by RTS or not, we’ve seen a major change in how people see the market, the town, and the way of life that makes people want to come,” said Quick. “Our local stores say that the Thursday before Rock the South is like Black Friday. We make a point to remind our attendees where in town they can go and hang out or eat. We bring in the local community. We’re now approaching between 15-20 million dollars in economic impact on the local market.”

Cullman has transformed from being a stop off the interstate to being a destination in itself. “Rock the South is a calling card—an excuse for people to be brought in by the city during one of our big moments,” said Quick. “There’s also something about showing people that people will drive to our city. If you’re a restaurant or business hoping to draw people in from surrounding counties, we prove every year that Cullman is a city people will come to. Next time you’re driving past, you may stop again.”

Good Grit Agency helped Rock the South create a strong brand, and Rock the South is helping to make Cullman a strong town. Keep your eyes on the festival and how the town it calls home continues to grow.