The announcement of the first outdoor show this summer for Little Rock — outside of Riverfest — surprised almost everyone and not only because it wasn’t scheduled for Riverfront Park’s amphitheater.
Bob Dylan and Willie Nelson are making a pilgrimage around the nation’s minor league baseball parks, and they’ll stop in at Ray Winder Field July 2 for a 6:30 p.m. show. Tickets, priced at $49.50, go on sale at 10 a.m. May 14 through Ticketmaster.
As for shows solidly booked in the city’s outside venues, that’s it. But there is optimism that Little Rock will see several more outdoor concerts before summer is through.
“We have quite a few tentative dates on hold, nothing firm,” said Mabyn Patten, who books events for the Parks and Recreation Department, which oversees the Riverfest Amphitheater. “It looks like it will be a good summer — a late summer, but that’s pretty much true for everybody. Alltel Arena doesn’t have that much booked for early summer either, and they are one of the best venues for concerts anywhere.”
Patten says that most promoters she’s talked with have indicated that many amphitheater-style shows will be starting out west and routing through this market (inclusive of major cities Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Nashville, Atlanta, New Orleans and Birmingham) well after summer is underway.
Little Rock’s success with drawing outside shows changed — apparently for the worse, based on last year’s paltry number and quality of shows — when the Parks and Recreation Department decided to open up promotion of amphitheater concerts to all comers.
For 11 years, the Parks and Recreation Department had an exclusive arrangement with local promoter Butch Stone. Stone would line up the shows through out-of-state promoters while he provided all the key elements around the concert (such as ticket takers, security, food and beverage, artists and staff catering, production, bathrooms). The city made $50,000 annually up front, plus $1 for each ticket sold and a percentage of the concessions, Stone said. “Over a 10-year period, I paid the city more than $1 million,” he said.
Stone last year turned over management of Stone Concerts to his son, Dennis. Butch Stone, however, stays informed, and said he expected three or four major shows this summer brought in by promoters who have indicated they would use Stone Concerts for help.
Possible shows include Widespread Panic, which didn’t tour last summer but has previously made Little Rock a regular stop; old faithful Lynyrd Skynyrd, and a 3 Doors Down/Staind tour expected to be moving through this region in July. 3 Doors Down was the headliner with Nickelback in the most successful of three amphitheater shows last summer, while heavier rocking Staind packed the park two years ago.
“The short answer is, yes, there will be shows at the amphitheater,” Stone said. “It’s a transitional situation for the city right now. If we [Stone Concerts] were to have rebid the agreement we previously had with the city, and the agreement was already expensive from our viewpoint, it would have priced us out.”
Instead, Stone Concerts is fine serving as a staffing outlet, he said. Lane Arnold from Dallas-based Fast Lane Concerts and Randy Shelton of Houston’s Stardate Concerts, which works with Clear Channel Communications on shows, have been in touch with Stone Concerts and with the city’s Patten. Danny Eaton of Dallas-based Anschutz Entertainment Group-Live Southwest has worked in the past with Stone on shows. Arnold used to work with Eaton’s company.
Promoters “absolutely” feel the amphitheater is still a viable venue, Patten said.
War Memorial Stadium, where Stone brought the Eagles in 1995, was back in the concert business in 2001, before 9/11 security concerns made most stadium shows too difficult to staff. Groups such as Dave Matthews Band, who were big stadium users a few years ago, have focused lately on amphitheaters.
But these shows are in amphitheaters seating 15,000-plus, and Riverfest Amphitheater is too small, plus has limited access for production trucks, for the major tours. That leaves the artists who are happy with crowds of less than 8,000 people.
Patten said the city has bought advertising in trade publications to alert promoters to the availability of the amphitheater. She says she’s also mailed out informational packages to prospective concerts. The city charges a flat $5,000 for concert rental of the amphitheater with no percentage of concessions.
“If promoters are looking for a place in Little Rock, we’re pretty easy to find,” she said.
Juneteeth, scheduled for June 17-18 and sponsored by Citadel Communications, will bring music acts to the amphitheater, Patten said, and the annual Pops on the River with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra is July 4.