It began with heavy rain and temperatures in the 40s and concluded with heat. The community still didn’t mind weathering the 53rd annual Summer Arts Festival with its various music and entertainment offerings.
The six-week series presented by the Springfield Arts Council saw 25 attractions and special pre-show events that drew an estimated 81,000 attendees to Veterans Park from June 13 through July 20 as part of one of the oldest ongoing free festivals of its type in the country.
“It was a well-attended season with a great cross-section of music and audiences,” said Arts Council executive director Tim Rowe. “One night we’d have a show where a lot of families attended, another we’d have classic rock fans, just something for everyone and good programming.”
An estimated 86,000 people attended the festival in 2018.
Already dealing with the loss of its regular offices in the Heritage Center of Clark County due to a flood, the Arts Council took temporary residence in the Springfield Museum of Art, where the backdoor practically led to the stage.
As if it hadn’t endured enough water issues, opening night on June 13 with Springfield native Griffin House saw a downpour and a temperature of about 42, Rowe said. Few people waited around when the decision to cancel came down.
Backstage, Chris Schutte, Springfield Chamber Vice-President, Destination Marketing and Communications, suggested moving the show to Mother Stewart’s Brewing Co. downtown. Co-owner Kevin Loftis agreed and House performed songs from his newest album to a crowd there, with word spread through social media.
While it provided a happy conclusion, the situation was unusual as most concerts are usually just canceled, and artists are paid regardless of whether they perform.
Rowe said in the early 2000s the Arts Council tried a backup plan to move concerts to the Clark State Performing Arts Center, but that proved difficult.
“It just wasn’t feasible,” he said. “Often, bands have their own equipment or rent it from us to set up. We have appropriate sound and lighting that are here. It would be hard to get the word out and we’d have to have the Kuss Auditorium space held and their staff on call if we moved.”
About 10 shows were affected by rain, including the Springfield Symphony and Miami Valley Symphony shows, and the Phil Dirt and the Dozers show’s second half was rained out.
Rowe said weather, such as the heat which hit 106 degrees the festival’s last week, affected the pass the hat fundraising done at intermission at each show, as well as concession stand sales, which were also down this year.
The festival fell short of its goal of $63,000 by roughly $3,500. He said some of the better attended shows for popular tribute acts average roughly $3,000 during pass the hat.
The Arts Council is accepting donations at its website for anyone interested in helping contribute toward the fundraising goal. He added that outstanding sponsor support is an important part of helping defray costs.
According to Rowe, the best attended shows were again for tribute acts including Queen, Prince, ABBA and the classic rock act Snake Oil. Attendance numbers are based on estimates as being a non-ticketed festival means exact counts are not taken.
A Simon and Garfunkel tribute, Mutts Gone Nuts and the Chinese Acrobats also brought in good numbers.
He added the biggest pass the hat and concession stand collections came from the Absolute Journey tribute. Rowe said it’s always a possibility to bring back popular acts, but it depends on the group’s commitments and budget considerations.
With several other outdoor entertainment venues in the area, Rowe has already started booking acts for next year’s Arts Festival.
“We’re proud that approximately 81,000 people came even when the weather couldn’t have been worse,” said Rowe. “Our mission is to make the performing arts accessible to people without an admission fee and we see so many different members of the community enjoying it each night.”
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