Springfield Summer Arts Fest attendance climbs, fundraising goals hit

The Springfield Summer Arts Festival met its fundraising goals and increased attendance for its 50th season that wrapped up last month, a turnaround from the previous year when rain plagued many of the performances.

The month-long festival, which is budgeted at $400,000, met its pass-the-hat fundraising goal of $60,000 in donations, said Tim Rowe, arts council managing artistic director.

The 2016 festival drew 81,000 total attendees, with tribute acts drawing the biggest audiences. It was well above last season’s 70,000, Rowe said, and about on par with other recent festivals.

Whereas rain affected numerous shows during the 2015 festival, this milestone year saw only 15 minutes of a show delayed by weather.

“It really let us concentrate on the experience of the festival, giving our crowds the best experience because last year was difficult for the staff and crew,” Rowe said.

The season saw familiar and new tribute bands, homegrown talent and performers from as far Russia take the Turner Pavilion stage in Veterans Park.

The up-and-coming talent of Live on the Terrace pre-show performances, annual food and drink fests and a special event for those who have made the festival successful for 50 years also made the season special.

“When we discussed what direction to take, our board felt it was important to look back, but equally to look forward,” Rowe said. “We wanted to celebrate our history but not get too caught up in the past.”

They didn’t, Rowe said, and board members, the teens on the festival crew and staff witnessed and heard how deeply it affects the members of the community in many ways.

“It’s easy for us to get caught up in the day-to-day operation of putting the show on four or five days a week,” Rowe said. “It was humbling to know the work involved has been and is appreciated. There’s an overwhelming sense of its importance to this community.”

The best-attended show of the season was a new act, Resurrection – A Journey Tribute, drawing 10,000 people, followed by frequent festival favorite, Hotel California – The Original Tribute to the Eagles.

Other new act Let’s Hang On – The Tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons drew 9,000 people and Arrival from Sweden – The Music of ABBA, garnered 7,500.

The key to these types of shows, , Rowe said, is that they’re quality tribute bands that do well reproducing the sound of the popular artists they represent.

Also drawing 7,500 was this year’s musical, “Disney and Cameron Mackintosh’s ‘Mary Poppins.’”

While Rowe said the festival needs the big nights such as popular tribute bands to help raise funds, even some of the least attended shows, such as the Gospel Workshop of America show that had less than 200 and the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra with 300 attendees, are tributes to the series’ diversity.

“We don’t make money on these but these are important to some people. These were extraordinary shows with world-class players and we’ll continue to have diverse programming like that,” he said.

With the excitement of a half-century behind, he said it’s time to start on the road to 100.

“I’m booking now and even as the festival was going on,” Rowe said.

Expect new acts, returning favorites and acts audiences haven’t seen in a few years next year. The announcement of the 2017 Summer Arts Festival lineup should come in March.

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