By Randy Arrington
LURAY, Aug. 13 — It was a year ago Monday when Wynonna Judd slipped into the spotlight at the Shenandoah Speedway to sing for thousands gathered at the 40th anniversary celebration of the 1980s CBS hit “The Dukes of Hazzard.”
The festival dubbed “Cooter’s Good Ol’ Boys Fest” fell short of the expectations of Ben Jones, who played Cooter Davenport on the show, and his wife Alma Viator, who organized the event. The couple own several variations of Hazzard-themed gift shops that also serve as shrines to the show located in Nashville and Pigeon Forge, Tenn., as well as the Page Valley just west of Luray.
Despite performances by Wynonna Judd, Confederate Railroad, Exile, Billy Dean, Relentless and a stunt show that sent the Dodge Charger known as the “General Lee” soaring — the two-day event lost $60,000.
The heavy expense of providing top level entertainment — including a hefty price just for the stage for them to perform on — came up short of the revenue from thousands of ticket holders. Viator, or “Miss Alma” as she is known, said the overall cost of the event was between $550,000 to $600,000.
During the Aug. 4 work session of the Page County Board of Supervisors, Sheriff Chad Cubbage blamed a portion of his budget shortfall on an unpaid bill for security at the 2019 event totaling $21,270.
“There was an agreement in place,” Cubbage told the supervisors last week during questioning about his budget overages. “We have sent letters.”
When District 5 Supervisor Jeff Vaughn asked the sheriff if he had called or visited the folks at Cooter’s Place to discuss the delinquent bill, the sheriff repeated that “letters have been sent.” When Vaughan asked if the agreement had been put in writing, Cubbage indicated that a verbal agreement was in place.
“Ben and I did not pay the bills because they were in dispute,” Viator said on Tuesday. “I usually pay police and rescue first, but I really felt we were being taken advantage of.”
Viator said she told a representative from the sheriff’s office that the department was planning for a larger crowd than expected and that not as many officers would be needed to provide security.
“We kept telling them it would be lower numbers [than the previous festival], but they did it anyway,” Viator said. “There were just so many cops there for such a long time. He was paying each one of them $40 an hour, and there were groups of four and five hanging out and talking with Daisy.”
Between a $21,270 bill from the sheriff’s office and a $19,182 bill from the county’s EMS, the event’s organizers owed Page County a total of $40,452. They paid Wynonna and her band $40,000.
Vaughn, who owns the Shenandoah Speedway where the event was held, met with Viator on Monday to discuss the debt to the county. Vaughan brokered a deal for payment at 60 percent of the amount billed. The net result is $12,762 for the sheriff’s office and $11,509.28 for EMS, for a net total of $24,271.28.
On Wednesday morning, County Administrator Amity Moler confirmed the settlement amount with Major Pete Monteleone, who accepted the smaller amount on behalf of the sheriff’s office. Moler also stated that she had no issues with the negotiated amount and it received final approval by board members.
Viator stated earlier this week that she was planning to pay the bill as soon as she heard back from the county. Moler stated she reached out to Viator Wednesday afternoon.