Pictured at right, the incredible Lou Ferrigno and his hulking-awesome “Big Green Dream Gun”
Headlined by a keynote address from the president of the United States, the Georgia World Congress Center hosted the National Rifle Association Annual Meetings and Exhibits on April 28-30, bringing more than 81,000 visitors to downtown Atlanta, driving an estimated economic impact of $60 million.
At a post-event meeting on Tuesday, Jeff Poole, the NRA’s managing director of shows and exhibits, lauded the GWCC staff for its flexibility and open-mindedness in hosting a show of this scope with many moving parts and unique needs.
“How many groups do you have that come in here and want to shoot?” he asked, referring to the air gun range that was set up in Building B’s meeting rooms during the NRA convention. Other centers might balk at the idea, he said, but “you didn’t really bat an eye.”
Show managers as well as attendees also took note of the Southern hospitality provided by the convention center team throughout the weekend.
“I attended the NRA Annual Meeting today and wanted to tell you how friendly and hospitable your staff was that manned the entrances, walkways, etc.,” Greg Brooks, community and public relations director of Georgia-based utility co-op Walton EMC, wrote in a Facebook message. “They went out of their way to say hello and to tell me they appreciated me visiting the GWCC. I’m impressed. Thank you.”
The three-day event also featured more than 800 exhibits at the GWCC covering 264,599 square feet of booth space touted as “15 acres of guns and gear,” along with seminars, workshops, celebrity meet-and-greets, a Saturday evening concert by country music legend and NRA member Hank Williams, Jr., as well as ancillary events hosted at nearby venues.
Clad in his customary navy suit and red tie, the current president of the United States addressed the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum on Friday, April 28 – the first time a sitting commander-in-chief has done so since President Ronald Reagan in 1983.
The event also marked his second appearance at the GWCC in the span of 14 months, as he held a campaign rally in the same exhibit hall (A3) on Feb. 21, 2016, while seeking the Republican Party’s presidential nomination. The ILA forum was a separately ticketed event and drew a crowd of approximately 9,000 and more than 600 credentialed national and local media.
“It’s truly great to be back in Atlanta,” the president said Friday, speaking at the forum that also included speeches by U.S. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas, Florida Governor Rick Scott, U.S. Senator David Purdue of Georgia, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre, and Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action.
And prior to the president’s introduction, country artist Lee Greenwood performed his signature tune, “God Bless the U.S.A.,” which was used by Trump as a campaign song.
Live music was in abundance throughout the convention, with Williams, Jr.’s show – also separately ticketed – drawing an approximate crowd of 9,000 revelers to the exhibit hall, which was set up with all the bells and whistles of an arena show. Support act Lee Brice, a country singer/songwriter with four No. 1 singles under his belt, played for close to an hour, mixing in his hits such as “I Drive Your Truck,” along with a cover of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Simple Man,” and an excerpt of Queen’s “Fat Bottom Girls” that lead directly into his Top 10 hit “Parking Lot Party.”
During Brice’s performance many members of the crowd began to shout “Bocephus!” – the nickname given to Williams by his father, Hank Williams, Sr., widely regarded as “The King of Country Music.”
Surprise guest artist Gretchen Wilson then took the stage for a couple of numbers, performing her signature hit “Redneck Woman,” with Williams’ band, before the legend came out donning sunglasses and a baseball cap with “ICON” inscribed in gold letters, launching into “Are You Ready for the Country,” in which he adlibbed the lyrics and asked, “are you ready for an Atlanta-NRA Bocephus show?”
Located in the heart of downtown Atlanta, the Georgia World Congress Center Authority now includes Mercedes-Benz Stadium, the 3.9 million-square-foot Georgia World Congress Center, the decommissioned Georgia Dome, and 21-acre Centennial Olympic Park. Additionally, GWCCA manages operations of the Savannah International Trade & Convention Center. These public facilities represent the largest combined convention, sports, and entertainment destination in the world. This past year, the GWCCA hosted 523 events and welcomed more than 2.7 million visitors, creating an economic impact of $1.51 billion. For more info, visit gwcca.org.