A 200-acre empty pasture along the Lee-Harnett county line will be transformed into a concert venue of nearly 100 rock and country bands, including some big names with huge followings. The story of how the Wampus Cat Music Festival came to be:
By Gordon Anderson and Billy Liggett
As of this writing, the Gross Farms II facility is a largely empty field of 200 acres off Rosser-Pittman Road just over the Lee-Harnett County line. The rolling property, formerly a working farm, has a couple of dirt roads and one hell of a view, but not much else.
By May 13, at least for the weekend, that will all change.
For those three days, Gross Farms II (owned by the same family which operates the Gross Farms corn maze and pumpkin patch facility off N.C. 87 in southern Lee County) will become a concert venue for as many as 15,000 people coming from across North Carolina and beyond to take in performances by nearly 100 acts ranging from 90s hitmakers like Everclear, Lit and Sister Hazel, to current country superstars like Thompson Square, and up and coming independent acts like Nitro Nitra, Hanging Cities, Hope Darling and many, many more.
Put shortly, it’s a roster of acts from your past, your present and hopefully your future. There’s truly something for everyone.
This first year event, known as the Wampus Cat Music Festival (the name is sourced from a North Carolina folktale about a mystical creature reportedly inhabiting the state since the colonial era) is a collaboration between Gross Farms and Indie on Air Records.
If Indie on Air sounds familiar, that’s because the organization has already staged one successful musical festival, the Carolina Indie Fest, which was held for the first time in downtown Sanford back in September 2021 and drew more than 6,000 people to the city’s center over two days.
Jeff Popka, CEO of Indie on Air Records, said the Sanford area is a target for the company’s goal to “help make Sanford and the surrounding areas a music destination.” In addition to the Carolina Indie Fest, Indie on Air has staged multi-day music festivals in Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.
“People will travel from all over for a music festival experience,” Popka said. “The economic benefits to the business community can be substantial.”
But while Carolina Indie Fest was a free event centered in downtown Sanford, live music lovers should expect Wampus Cat to be a little different in a few significant ways. First of all, admission is ticketed. Second, because it’s taking place on the Gross Farms II property at 3345 Rosser Pittman Road in western Harnett County, attendees are encouraged to stay for parts of even all of the weekend, with campsites available for an additional fee.
Nearly 20 food trucks will be on site throughout the weekend, as well as an array of breweries, distilleries and even hard cider vendors to keep concert goers from getting parched.
For Popka and his team, who have been working on Wampus Cat since it was first announced back in the fall, the first couple weeks of May will be for “tying up all the loose ends.”
“All the big issues have been resolved,” he said. “There are administrative logistics to get through. We didn’t have the wifi deal completed until (mid April), for example, and that was pretty stressful.”
Tickets and the full lineup are available at wampuscatmusicfestival.com, and Popka said based on early sales Indie on Air already expects robust attendance, with the possibility of a Friday night sellout.
“For the first year, we’re capping attendance at 15,000 people,” he said. “We truly have the space for as many as 30,000, but a lot of first year festivals get overwhelmed with people and we don’t want that to happen. We want to be able to serve everybody and make sure we can make this event a success, and then figure out how to make it bigger next year.”
Popka said Indie on Air is working closely with area officials like the Harnett County Sheriff’s Office to ensure a safe event for all.
“Everyone is welcome of course, but our market is going to be people in their 30s, 40s and 50s,” he said. “We don’t want to be Woodstock. We’ve gone over our emergency plans with Harnett County, and now it’s just about executing what we know how to do.”
By the end of April, Popka said around 1,500 advance tickets had been sold, many to people from outside the area or even from other states. Tickets went on sale in late 2021, and the pace has picked up significantly as the event nears.
“We know the last two weeks is where most of the action is, so it’s a good idea to get tickets as early as possible,” he said. “Tickets and parking at the door will cost more, so everybody should buy early.”
And once Wampus Cat’s first year is done, Popka and Indie on Air will turn their attention to September and Carolina Indie Fest’s second year in downtown Sanford, which they expect to be bigger and better.
“Sanford is just so perfectly suited for events like this,” he said. “We’re so excited for the future.”
WANT TO GO?
- What: The Wampus Cat Music Festival, sponsored by Indie On Air Records and Gross Farms
- When: May 13-15 with stage times TBD
- Where: 3345 Rosser Pittman Road, just south of U.S. 421 and the town of Broadway. Entrance(s) will be marked by signs
- Who: Big names in rock (Everclear, Lit, Sister Hazel), indie and country music (Thompson Square, the Swon Brothers) will join nearly 100 bands on three different stages during the three-day event.
- Cost: Three-day passes (including parking) run $128.40. Single-day passes (parking not included) run $52.43 and can be purchased on the website.
- Amenities: There will be camping, food, drum circles, costume contests and more.
- Why Wampus Cat?: The name for this festival comes from the North Carolina folktale of the Wampus Cat, a mystical cat like creature that has been reported to have been sighted in the area going all the way back to the colonial times.
- Learn more: wampuscatmusicfestival.com has complete list of bands, updates and links to buy tickets.
Q&A | JEFF POPKA
The Rant: Let’s pretend people know nothing about Wampus Cat Music Festival. What do you tell them?
Jeff Popka: It’s an open air music festival. It’s going to be held on just less than 200 acres of festival grounds at Gross Farms II, which is technically in Broadway, although Gross Farms itself is in Sanford. But it’s beautiful grounds.
There’s going to be over three days, there’s going to be camping on site, parking on site, approximately 90-plus bands.We’ve got three stages — one’s basically country, and all its sub genres, one’s rock and all its sub genres [and an indie stage]. We feature national headliners along with independent acts from all over the country. And when we say independent acts, we don’t mean ones that are playing in their garage or in our backyards. We’re talking about emerging independent acts that are breaking out and out on the road and working and doing what it takes to get done to be noticed. And this is our way of helping them.
And it’s also our way of building the music community in the Sanford area like we’ve been talking about for the last couple of years.
And finally, it’s a partnership between Gross Farms and Indie On Air Records. And we think it’s going to be a lot of fun.
The Rant: Tell us about some of the bigger names coming.
Jeff Popka: On the country side, we got Thompson Square. Stephanie Quayle. We just announced Maggie Rose. The Swon Brothers. Tyler Reese Tritt. Of course, the Cliff Wheeler Band — although you may think of him as regional because he’s from Lemon Springs, but he’s actually he’s been touring around the country as well. On the rock side, we’ve got Everclear, Lit and Sister Hazel. J.R. Richards, who is the former frontman from Dishwalla.
Nitro Nitra and Hope Darling, we’re excited about them. And then we got some other national bands that have toured the world like the Steepwater Band.
The Rant: Carolina Indie fest was held in downtown Sanford last year — did you see it as kind of a test run for something bigger like this? How do you think Indie Fest went?
Jeff Popka: I think it went great for a first-year festival to draw 12,000 people over two days. I thought it was fantastic. And we got a lot of great feedback from it. Not just from our artists, but from the town itself. So we’re very pleased with that. Wampus cat is Carolina Indie Fest on steroids. That’s how I look at it.
The Rant: Wampus Cat is more ambitious and on a much bigger scale. Why are you confident this is going to work?
Jeff Popka: The exploding region that you guys are located — it’s one of the top growing regions in the country. And we are putting our footprint right there. We just think it’s a fantastic fit. You’re close to the interstate, so it’s easy for everybody along the East Coast to get there. We have a lot of bands from places like Philadelphia, Delaware, Baltimore, Washington D.C., Virginia and South Carolina — those are all easy drives to Sanford. We think we can draw from throughout that whole region.
We anticipate drawing well from Winston-Salem and Greensboro, which is another market and it’s only an hour away. We’re also expecting a big draw from Raleigh-Durham. We’re advertising this everywhere — and we’re cheap. So we’re pretty confident this will do well.
Hear the full interview with Jeff Popka at rantnc.podbean.com