PRO Chris Cates Witnesses the Massive Growth of a Popular Bluegrass Festival

Clean Green Porta Potties enjoys a long history of helping fans at Kentucky’s ROMP Festival enjoy the sweet sounds of mountain music

PRO Chris Cates Witnesses the Massive Growth of a Popular Bluegrass Festival

Kyle Conklin services restrooms using a vacuum truck built out by Lane’s Vacuum Tank and carrying a Masport pump

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Chris Cates operates Clean Green Porta Potties out of his 35-acre property in Sebree, Kentucky, and a supplemental 2-acre storage yard 30 miles away in Owensboro. The team includes his wife, Chrissie, who handles book work; sister Tracy Townsend, who does all their septic work; right-hand-man Kyle Conklin; and portable restroom technicians Tony Coakley (his father-in-law), Wayne Bethel and Dennis Ranburger. Son Tristan (16) helps out at events. Tristan and his siblings — Katelyn (14), Karsyn (12), Tracen (8) and Kynsley (3) — help the family business during “folding parties” where Cates plants everybody around the dining room table to fold and stuff invoices. For ROMP Festival, Cates also received help from another PRO, B.J. Davis at Moon Portable Restrooms in Louisville, who supplied two restroom trailers and a shower trailer.


Cates’ father, Rodney, started a trenching company in 1978, then over the years expanding into other services including septic pumping. Cates started working with him “ever since I was big enough to be in the way,” he says. After high school, he served three years in the U.S. Navy and then returned to the business. By 2007, just before his father passed away, he earned a master plumber license. And with help from his father-in-law, he also had a side business in portable sanitation after buying the assets and client list of a 10-year-old company.

“I always felt like I wanted something more for me and my family,” he says. “I didn’t know what it was. I talked to the man, started running some numbers in my head and thought it could be a good opportunity.” The business came with 147 units. Their green color and the owner’s insistent advice — “You’ve got to keep them clean” — led to Cates’ wife suggesting the name Clean Green.

When his father passed, Cates’ sister took over the septic business and Cates went full time with Clean Green. He bought out two other companies in 2008 and 2012 and now has an inventory of over 2,000 units. In November 2018, the family septic company was rolled into Clean Green and accounts for about 10% of the work.


The company picked up ROMP Festival with its 2008 acquisition when the event was only a few years old.

“I sent two guys out, one truck and 20 toilets,” Cates recalls. “They sat there all day and were bored out of their minds. Now it’s every vehicle and employee I’ve got.”

Cates makes sure the sponsor, the International Bluegrass Music Museum, never has a reason to look for another vendor.

“They know they can call on me if there’s a problem and I take care of it,” he says. “I tell the guys as long as we keep doing what we’re supposed to do, we’ll have this event — provide good service, take care of the people and be polite.”


Ricky Skaggs, Patty Loveless and Steve Earle headlined ROMP Festival 2019, a four-day music/camping festival held June 26-29 at Yellow Creek Park in Owensboro. It featured bluegrass, folk and Americana music, as well as food and craft vendors, children’s activities, group yoga, and lots of jamming and dancing. About 30,000 people attended. Camping options ranged from hammocks to motor homes. Cates describes it as a colorful family event where you’re likely to see tie-dye dresses, handlebar mustaches, hula hoops, hoot owls, bubble machines and old Airstream trailers. “It’s a great atmosphere,” he says. “Everybody’s just having a good time.”


On Monday, two days before the event, Cates and Conklin brought in 75 standard units (PolyJohn Enterprises and Satellite | PolyPortables), 10 enhanced access units (PolyJohn Enterprises), and 15 hand-wash stations (Satellite | PolyPortables) using 20- and 12-unit Johnny Mover trailers. Units were set up in 13 locations in banks of two to 16: 40 surrounding the main stage and the rest scattered throughout camping areas. They also brought in four Satellite Suites single-stall shower units owned by the sponsor but stored at the company’s lot.

The next day, Moon Portable Restrooms brought in an eight-stall restroom trailer for VIPs, a two-stall trailer (Porta-Lisa from JAG Mobile Solutions) for artists and an eight-stall shower trailer for campers.


The crew serviced equipment Thursday afternoon, Friday morning and afternoon, and four times Saturday using four Ram 5500s (2014-17) built out by FlowMark Vacuum Trucks and Lane’s Vacuum Tank with aluminum tanks and Masport pumps, three with 1,100-gallon waste and 400-gallon freshwater tanks and one with a 600-gallon waste and 350-gallon freshwater tank. Deodorizers, scented disks and washdown soap were from J&J Portable Sanitation Products and Satellite | PolyPortables. Tanks and floors were cleaned with Purple Power degreaser. Waste was taken to the Owensboro treatment plant. Every service run also included freshening up the restroom trailers, which were swept and had trash removed, soap and towels replenished and mirrors cleaned.

Maneuvering through the crowd was tricky, but Cates says they’ve gotten better at it.

“You’ve got to have a spotter at all times,” he says. “You can be as polite as possible but sometimes people are like cows in a road — they won’t get out of your way. We knock out the big banks first. We’ll park two or three trucks in front of them to create a barricade, then service them and get out of the way as quick as possible.”

Two crew members stayed on site all day Friday to pump out RVs in between equipment services, and Saturday the full crew was on hand. The team used the company’s nearby storage lot as a place to take breaks. “We’d go there and hang out or go eat lunch,” Cates says. “I provide everything during the event — food, water, Gatorade.”

On Sunday morning, there was a big push to get all their RV customers pumped out so the campers could leave. Then the team started in on its own equipment and had everything removed by 5:30 p.m.


When it rained 3 inches Wednesday night, Cates was fearful they were looking at a mud fest, but with luck on their side, the next storm didn’t hit until a few hours after everything was back at the storage yard.

Cates reports everything went well, they received a lot of compliments as usual, and they’re already making plans for next year. “It’s hard to describe the environment, but it’s so peaceful and happy,” he says. “We sure enjoy it. It’s our biggest event of the year and one we look forward to.”


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