Now that Riverfest 2004 has come and gone, the Riverfest Amphitheatre will sit silent for nearly two months. The first scheduled summer concert at the venue isn't until July 27, when modern rockers 3 Doors Down, Nickelback and Puddle of Mudd perform.
The reason for the dark house is that concert promoters didn't know the venue was no longer under an exclusive management contract and was available for lease. Parks Director Bryan Day said his office could have done a better job of getting word out about availability.
"Because it was this way for 10 years, people have assumed it's still exclusive," Day said.
Now, a bona fide promoter wishing to book the amphitheater should call Mabyn Patterson at Parks' River Market office (375-2552). It costs $5,000 to reserve the venue. The promoter must pay 30 days in advance to confirm an event and is responsible for all ancillary needs - security, emergency personnel, vendors, etc.
"That's cheap," Day said. "There are other expenses, of course, but … you get all the food and beverage money, we don't get any. Of all the venues in Little Rock, we are the cheapest. He added that the amphitheater is also "probably the hardest to produce in because we are weather-driven."
The city is advertising the amphitheater's availability in the music trade journals.
When Butch Stone's exclusive management contract ran out last fall, Day entertained thoughts about putting the venue management up for bid before deciding to open it to all comers. Stone was happy to go that route, too, he said; Stone has turned his concert management business over to son Dennis.
So far, only Danny Eaton, Stone's promoter the past three years at the amphitheater, has booked a show this summer. Eaton is now with AEG, a fledgling Los Angeles concert company out to compete with big boys Clear Channel and Concerts West. In this market, AEG seems to be gearing more of its shows indoors to Alltel Arena.
On the bright side, the amphitheater's quiet time is allowing for some badly needed repair work. Drainage improvements in the orchestra pit area were completed during the spring, and work to replace the tent with a rainproof roof starts this summer. Parks will also probably want to take a look at the electric system so that a 15-minute sound failure like the one during Al Green's Riverfest show doesn't happen again.
Plans were to piecemeal the work between the shows, but it was never the intention to leave the amphitheater dark for eight weeks of summer.
"We need the revenue," Day said. "It's a significant funding source for the River Market."
Stone has said that AEG could bring in several concerts in August and September. Performers such as Don Henley and Evanescence with Seether were mentioned.
Once the rental policy is better known, Day predicts better days ahead for the amphitheater, particularly after the opening of the Clinton Presidential Center in November and the nearby Heifer International project.
"What we're doing, this is still relatively new and we haven't worked out the bugs," he said. "It should be used 200 nights a year. … We want to fill those seats as much as possible, not for money's sake but because the people of Little Rock deserve it."