Cade Mahan is talking on his cellphone as a visitor enters the room. He holds up his index finger, signifying he would be off in a second.
But he gets two more beeps as he’s finishing up the first conversation, then he needs to check on another message and return one more call.
His phone is blowing up.
Welcome to the life of the president of Summer Motion.
Mahan took on the Herculean job last September and every day since then it has been foremost in his every thought. Hardly a minute goes by that he’s not dealing with the festival in some form or fashion.
Now, three days before the first Summer Motion on his watch is about to unfold, the stress is beginning to build. Antacids are his friend these days. He pops them like candy.
Fundraising, preparations, details, more details and even more details are on the checklist of Mahan’s mind. Do I do this? Do I need to do that? What about this, what about that?
And, oh yes, don’t forget about the weather.
“I’m feeling it a little bit,” Mahan admitted on Friday. “The whole weather scare, talk and buzz around it, doesn’t help.”
Nobody said this job would be easy.
Mahan is comfortable the pieces are in place for the 25th anniversary of Ashland’s signature event. It’s a festival that those in and around Ashland are proud to call their own and one that has drawn acclaim throughout the South.
“Where else are you going to get this?” asks Mahan rhetorically. “The festival quality we present is unequaled and second to none around the country. It’s right here in the heart of Ashland and it’s all for free!”
Festival entertainment on the riverfront this year includes Loverboy, Sawyer Brown and Styx. You want an encore? How about going over to the park and listening to former “America’s Got Talent” winner Landau Murphy?
“It’ll be the largest crowd we’ve ever seen in the park,” Mahan said. “It’s going to be off the hook.”
So it will be four nights of top-notch entertainment and two days and nights of fun in Central Park where there will be crafts, wrestling shows, a chef challenge, a 10K run, a cornhole tournament and some new events like a 2-on-2 sand volleyball tournament will greet thousands of visitors and homefolk. Sink your teeth into a funnel cake or some of the other carnival foods that are too good to resist even though they’re not good for the waist line.
Mahan said more utilization of Central Park is at the top of his ideas for Summer Motion expansion in future years. He’s taking on the job of running the volleyball tournament (like he needed something else to do). He’d like to have the entire park full of activities.
Know this about Cade Mahan: He is passionate about Summer Motion and that’s what it takes to be the president of this festival. By the way, being Summer Motion president isn’t his only job – he’s also a manager at Applebee’s Restaurant. Being president of Summer Motion happens to be the only job he does for free. You read that correctly. This is not a paid position even though the man hours and importance it takes to do this job would seem to warrant it. It’s our best tourism vehicle.
Mahan watched Ashland Mayor Chuck Charles work his magic as festival president for 14 years — an amazing feat considering the energy it takes to make this festival work.
“Chuck told me I took away one of his and Jo’s favorite pastimes — talking about Summer Motion,” Mahan said. “I try not to stress about it.”
He has followed Charles’ formula of delegation by using a well-equipped committee that has the same devotion and passion as the presidents. Charles and Mahan would both agree that without the volunteer workforce they were given, Summer Motion wouldn’t be the festival it is today. It may not be a festival at all.
“Everybody on the committee knows their job and knows it well,” Mahan said. “They are the best at what they do. It’s my job to kind of direct everything and solve any problems they might encounter. I don’t have to micromanage.”
But when push comes to shove, the buck stops at the president’s door.
That’s why Mahan is in close contact with the Army Corp of Engineers, the National Weather Service and local meteorologist Tony Cavalier concerning the next seven days. It’s not weather here that’s as much of a concern as what happens in the Pittsburgh area. If the Ohio River rises to where it’s overlapping the pad, the festival might have to make a move to Central Park.
“But we can do it if that happens,” he said. “We’ll make a decision on Monday if we need to do that. Hopefully, we’ll be right on the riverfront, like always, for the concerts.”
Mahan admits it can be overwhelming at times.
“Maybe a little more (of a job) than I anticipated. I knew it would be one of the biggest undertakings of my life and it’s lived up to itself.”
Mahan said when he finally puts his head on the pillow at night his mind is racing 100 miles an hour about what all needs to be done and who needs to be called. There are only so many hours in the day to divide between the paying job, the family and Summer Motion.
“Last night I was thinking ‘Chuck Charles did this for 14 years!’ I don’t know if I could do that. I’ll do the best I can for as long as I can and, as long as the committee is happy and the people in the community are happy with the job I’m doing, I plan to keep doing it.”
Mahan said the job of festival president really ramps up in January when the booking begins for the riverfront concerts. The roller-coaster ride goes through peaks and valleys but it’s always busy with something to do. Fundraising has especially been difficult given the economic times and Mahan’s work schedule at the popular restaurant. He’s had to find the time.
The only compensation for Summer Motion president comes from some VIP seats, a few polo shirts and the thrill of being a part of one of the best festivals in the South.
“I’m looking forward to getting on the stage and welcoming everybody to Summer Motion,” Mahan said. “We want to give something back to the community. I look forward to looking out over the crowd and hearing some great music.”
He also will look forward to a week from Monday night, when everything is cleared out of the park and from the riverfront, and he can take a nap on the couch.
But guess where his dreams will take him?
“I’m already planning for 2014,” he said. “What bands can we get? How can we expand on what we have in the park? How can we make this a better festival?”
Make no mistake, Cade Mahan is all in with Summer Motion.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2648.