Editor’s Note: This story first published on March 11, 2018.
Dust off the lawn chairs and shake out the blankets. The Veterans Park Amphitheater stage will become the hottest activity spot in town in a matter of weeks.
The Springfield Arts Council’s 52nd Summer Arts Festival will bring 26 nights and one day of entertainment beginning June 14 and running through July 21. Admission remains free and pass-the-hat donations can be made during intermissions.
Planning for a new season of the Summer Arts Festival starts right after the previous one ends. It’s a puzzle for Arts Council Executive Director Tim Rowe and his staff, but in the end it all fits.
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“We’ve made a concentrated effort to bring old acts in, new acts that will knock your socks off and something the entire family can enjoy,” Rowe said.
Tribute acts are a festival staple. Rowe always faces choices about which he can bring back and new ones to consider. It usually comes down to scheduling and money.
After a year’s absence, Eagles tribute Hotel California will return, as will Journey tribute Resurrection, one of the most popular attractions the past two festivals.
New additions include The Petty Breakers – A Tribute to Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers; Snake Oil, a tribute to heavy metal and hard rock; and the Country Legends Tribute Tour featuring music of Garth Brooks, Keith Urban and Zac Brown Band.
“There aren’t a lot of country-oriented acts and we get asked about it a lot, but a lot of the name artists are tough to get for an admission-free festival, so when something like this is available we like to add it,” Rowe said.
After returning to the festival after several years in 2017, Grateful Dead tribute Dark Star Orchestra will be touring another part of the country and unavailable this year, according to Rowe.
“Tribute acts are substantial, but we also like to add in original things and we have some interesting ones this year,” he said.
New acts include Mutts Gone Nuts, a comedy act featuring all rescue dogs; acoustic fingerstyle guitarist Shaun Hopper; Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Bluegrass Band, performing Beatles songs in bluegrass style; and An Evening of Rodgers & Hammerstein with the Miami Valley Symphony Orchestra.
There are two acts that skirt the new and tribute area. Bosttyx plays the hits of Boston and Styx with former Boston vocalist David Victor, making it a hybrid tribute with an original.
In past festivals, a Bee Gees tribute act drew large crowds. The world’s top Bee Gees act, Stayin’ Alive, will bring Gibb brothers’ songs back to the park.
The Springfield community also will be well represented by several acts.
The Broadway in the Park production will combine adults with the Youth Arts Ambassadors for “Oliver!” Rowe said this show has proven popular with several audiences over the years with parts for 55 kids and adults.
Other area talent includes festival mainstays the Springfield Symphony Orchestra — which has been a part of every festival since the beginning — When Springfield Sings and Griffin House.
Returning are hometown favorites The Temps, who did a popular set last year, and country singer/songwriter Wyatt McCubbin, a Southeastern graduate who has been performing since he was a teen.
While Rowe receives criticism about not having original artists in favor of tribute acts, he still schedules originals when possible.
The season will wrap up with All-4-One, the Grammy Award-winning rhythm and blues performers who did a well-received Christmas show here in 2015.
The group, with all original members, topped the Billboard Hot 100 singles chart for 11 consecutive weeks in 1994 with “I Swear” and the smash “I Can Love You Like That.”
Popular themes such as the Parrothead Party in the Park, BBQ and Beer Blast and Sip of Summer Beer and Wine Tasting will be back, along with Live on the Terrace pre-show entertainment.
Rowe hopes everyone keeps in mind the work that goes in, has a good time and can give back to keep it going.
“People sometimes forget what we do,” he said. “In other communities these are ticketed events. We’re fortunate for 52 years to have a community that still supports the festival.”