Some Springfield traditions never go out of style or lose popularity. The Springfield Arts Council’s 56th annual Summer Arts Festival is a model of that consistency.
After a year off in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic and an abbreviated 2021 season, the admission-free festival went bigger than ever in 2022. The festival included a seven-week schedule featuring 31 acts and saw estimated attendance of about 83,000 people; not being a ticketed event, festival organizers don’t have exact numbers.
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The Springfield community not only responded by attending the shows but also named the festival the Best Local Event in the 2022 Best of Springfield competition, a title it has maintained four consecutive years.
Arts Council executive director Tim Rowe called the 2022 festival “incredibly successful” and to sustain an event that lasts six or more weeks for no cost in the current economic climate he credits community support. He receives calls as early as the Christmas season from people curious as to who will appear at next summer’s festival.
“This thing has a life of its own and has its own presence in this community,” said Rowe. “We’re very proud of the festival. We’ve had lots of new events in Springfield over the last five years and there’s room for all of these.”
With 56 years of experience, there are things that will go right in running a festival, but always new challenges. One has been around since the festival began – Mother Nature. Rain and heat are always factors, and was in 2022.
But this is where the festival was helped by extending a week-and-a-half. There was one total rainout and several shows were partly rained out or affected attendance, and the extra nights made up for the potential loss of pass the hat donations as people left.
“Weather always affects attendance, but this really helped balance us out and dug us out of a situation due to the rain,” said Rowe.
Humid temperatures nearing 100 degrees hurt the second week of the festival, including the Broadway in the Park presentation of “Pippin: The Musical” and other shows that entire week.
The festival still met its pass the hat goal of $60,000. It also generates money from concession sales, sponsors, special festival events and other fundraisers throughout the year. Rowe said the special events had disappointing returns, mostly due to inclement weather.
The Arts Council’s mission is to expose the community to various performing arts and the festival has a budget of about $350,000. Rowe said post-pandemic cost increases are showing up. Often the public isn’t aware what it takes to bring a show to them for free.
Many of the acts, especially the popular repeat performers, have increased their appearance fees, many of which charge $25-35 a ticket at some venues. Rowe said a common misconception is the performers playing at the Veterans Park Amphitheater do so for free.
The performers often stay in town one to three nights and they get fed during their appearance here and get travel expenses, all of which the Arts Council pays.
The acts that had the highest attendance in 2022 were all tribute acts and included Hotel California, Resurrection, ABBAMania Material Girls, Shining Star and That Arena Rock Show.
Besides Arts Council staff, there is a small crew of about 20 and several volunteers, whose assistance is Rowe always appreciates.
Rowe said he can see one day where the festival may have to charge for shows, but not in the coming years. There’s the possibility of doing a handful of events that require ticket prices.
But he also thinks about those who may not be able to see such shows and doesn’t want to lose that special part of the experience.
“One of my favorite things about this festival is people can see live entertainment for free,” he said. “There have always been challenges over the 56 years of presenting this festival and we’ve always met them as the community and sponsors stepped up. We find ways to make it work.”