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Augusta's Jessye Norman Amphitheater once popular, now barely used

Saturday, July 27, 2013 9:49 PM
Last updated Sunday, July 28, 2013 2:39 PM
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Former president Bill Clinton, guitarist Peter Frampton, rock band Widespread Panic, Easter sunrise services and a free movie series once drew visitors to the Jessye Norman Amphitheater at Riverwalk Augusta.

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The amphitheater has staged political speeches, concerts and worship services. Its use has declined through the years.  JIM BLAYLOCK/FILE
JIM BLAYLOCK/FILE
The amphitheater has staged political speeches, concerts and worship services. Its use has declined through the years.

Today, many local musicians can’t remember the last time they played the amphitheater or organized a concert at the 1,800-seat venue on the Savannah River. The seldom-used outdoor venue needs to be rediscovered, they say.

“It’s a tremendous waste of what should be a beautiful venue,” said local musician Ed Turner.

Turner remembers a host of events during the early years of the $3.3 million amphitheater, which opened in 1990. Frampton’s concert drew a crowd that nearly filled the venue.

Karen Gordon, of Garden City Jazz, said she hears frequent talk from Augusta’s music community about the need to take better advantage of the venue that fell into disuse.

“There is room for more. It takes a concerted effort among private enterprises and with the city,” Gordon said.

From 2006 to 2012, the venue was booked on average 14 times a year, according to statistics provided by the city’s special events manager Yolanda Greenwood.

So far in 2013, nine events have booked the amphitheater.

Numbers prior to 2006 were unavailable because the events manager position has changed hands and records could not be located.

“It’s used more now for weddings and some concerts but not as many as compared to when it opened,” said Greenwood, who books events at the amphitheater, Augusta Common and the riverwalk bulkheads and plazas.

The amphitheater lost steam because of competing venues, design flaws and lack of adequate parking, Greenwood said.

The Augusta Common opened in 2002, attracting annual events once held at the amphitheater such as the opening and closing ceremonies for Arts in the Heart. It also plays host for July Fourth and St. Patrick’s Day festivals as well as several concerts.

The common is often preferred over the amphitheater because it’s on flat ground and better suited for all ages compared to the steep steps at the river venue that also pose accessibility issues, Greenwood said.

The amphitheater also lacked adequate parking before a new city parking deck opened on Reynolds Street. A nearby, gravel lot that was previously used for special events was overtaken for construction staging for the expansion of the Augusta Convention Center and employee parking for the Augusta Marriott at the Convention Center, Greenwood said.

Then, there’s the weather that groups must gamble on at an outdoor venue. Turner booked the amphitheater for a benefit concert in May but canceled because of cold, rainy weather.

“If the weather is right, I can’t imagine a nicer venue to see a band,” he said.

Gordon said it’s difficult filling the amphitheater for local music concerts. She prefers the small stage at the Eighth Street bulkhead for the summer Candlelight Jazz Series because it’s a more intimate setting.

Promoting the venue to music groups outside of Augusta that would appeal to a larger crowd is one idea to better use the amphitheater, Gordon said.

Augusta businessman Brad Usry, owner of Fat Man’s Mill Cafe, has proposed to city leaders that a private company such as his manage events at the amphitheater. The venue could be used more frequently if one group focused on promoting events, he said.

Usry wants to see some capital improvements, including lighting and sound upgrades.

The amphitheater, named for internationally known opera singer and Augusta native Jessye Norman in 1996, rents for $800 for a ticketed concert, $700 for a miscellaneous event or fundraiser, $400 to $500 for a church service or school group and $300 for a wedding. There are additional fees for maintenance, the city superintendent, electricians and public safety.

Comments (14) Add comment
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Little Lamb
49260
Points
Little Lamb 07/27/13 - 09:10 pm
4
0
Augusta Riverfront, LLC

Oh, boy, here comes the aftermath of Paul Simon's Augusta Riverfront, LLC's management agreement to run the Marriott parking deck and the TEE Center for the city. The city is bleeding money out the wazoo on those agreements and will never realize a positive cash flow.

Now this guy Brad Usry wants the city to pay him to "manage" the Jesse Norman Amphitheatre. Isn't that nice! If somebody rents the amphitheatre, then Usry pockets 75%, the city gets 25%. If nobody rents the amphitheatre, the city pays Usry a monthly fee. What a cushy deal.

But, as we learned from the story, “Usry wants to see some capital improvements, including lighting and sound upgrades.” Yeah, where have we heard that before?

soldout
1283
Points
soldout 07/28/13 - 01:55 am
3
1
government and entertainment business

A government, city or county should never be in the entertainment business. If wanted or desired let private people do it all. If government just protects the people the people will do the rest. Sports included. Also most well adjusted people don't need to be constantly entertained to enjoy life.

corgimom
38787
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corgimom 07/28/13 - 04:49 am
3
0
What the article said. The

What the article said. The steps.

Riverman1
94417
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Riverman1 07/28/13 - 05:23 am
5
0
High Rental Fee

The rental fee seems to be pretty hefty for an outdoor facility. How much is the TEE Center rented for? And how much did THAT development plan that was never implemented just like the others cost?

soapy_725
44164
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soapy_725 07/28/13 - 07:44 am
0
0
Yes we need more entertainment venues to go unused. LOL
Unpublished

Yes we need more entertainment venues to go unused. LOL

soapy_725
44164
Points
soapy_725 07/28/13 - 07:46 am
0
0
Government is entertaining us? Churches are entertaining us?
Unpublished

Could they be fattening us up for "a catered feast" of wolves.

soapy_725
44164
Points
soapy_725 07/28/13 - 07:46 am
0
0
Fat and entertained. A catered feast for the wolves.
Unpublished

Fat and entertained. A catered feast for the wolves.

soapy_725
44164
Points
soapy_725 07/28/13 - 07:48 am
0
0
Government is another word for "waste". The sewer kind too.
Unpublished

Government is another word for "waste". The sewer kind too.

soapy_725
44164
Points
soapy_725 07/28/13 - 07:49 am
0
0
Bet Deek & Fred's pastors never use I Sam 8: as a sermon (-:
Unpublished

Bet Deek & Fred's pastors never use I Sam 8: as a sermon (-:

soapy_725
44164
Points
soapy_725 07/28/13 - 07:53 am
1
0
Pray for our leaders. Psalm 109:8 Let his days be few; and...
Unpublished

Let his days be few; and let another take his office.

itsanotherday1
48427
Points
itsanotherday1 07/28/13 - 08:04 am
3
0
A government, city or county should never be in the entertainmen

"A government, city or county should never be in the entertainment business."

Do you extend that sentiment to things like parks, ball fields, bike and walking paths, etc.?

Little Lamb
49260
Points
Little Lamb 07/28/13 - 08:56 am
3
1
No

SoldOut was not talking about traditional parks for citizens’ recreation. He was talking about government entering the entertainment business by promoting music concerts, ticketed ball games, etc. You've got government employees seeking out entertainment acts to sell tickets to citizens.

That should be handled by the private sector.

soldout
1283
Points
soldout 07/28/13 - 08:56 am
0
2
If people want it

People that love sports and outside activities would figure a way to have that whether government did anything or not. People enjoyed life in every way before we came along and said they only can if government provides it at a much greater cost than others can.

Gage Creed
19463
Points
Gage Creed 07/28/13 - 08:58 am
2
0
Sounds like the Amphitheater

Sounds like the Amphitheater may still be underwater, even thought the flood waters have receded...

avidreader
3572
Points
avidreader 07/28/13 - 09:43 am
1
0
Coco Rubio

Rubio could sell sand at a beach resort. He packed the amphitheater for the Avett Brothers. Why not turn over the theater to him? He has a ton of connections in the music biz.

Sweet son
11770
Points
Sweet son 07/28/13 - 01:37 pm
2
0
Just another downtown

white elephant! Build it and they didn't come!

Little Lamb
49260
Points
Little Lamb 07/28/13 - 04:13 pm
0
0
Claire Lynch

Hey, I saw Claire Lynch and the Front Porch Band down at Jesse Norman back in the 90s and it was a wonderful night.

And I'll bet there are very few Augustans who remember that local artist Doug Flowers (founder of the Augusta Bluegrass Society) brought a virtually-unknown Alison Krauss and her band (to become Union Station) to sing at the Jesse Norman Amphitheater in the baking September sun in the late 1980s or early 90s.

Little Lamb
49260
Points
Little Lamb 07/28/13 - 04:21 pm
0
0
This ticks me off . . .

From the story:

Brad Usry wants to see some capital improvements, including lighting and sound upgrades.

Wow! A wannabe concert promoter wants Augusta City Government to make lighting and sound upgrades at the Jesse Norman Amphitheater. Instead, let the bands bring their own lighting and sound equipment. That's what the class acts do anyway.

I say, no way!

Sweet son
11770
Points
Sweet son 07/28/13 - 06:39 pm
1
1
Right Little Lamb!

Don't sink more of OUR money into something that didn't work to start with! Brad needs to put his own money in if he wants to lose it!

itsanotherday1
48427
Points
itsanotherday1 07/28/13 - 06:49 pm
0
1
Soldout

I infer then, from your last post, that you do not believe local governments should spend ANY money on "community amenities"? If that is your position I would call it pretty short sighted. Your towns will be destined for failure if there are no parks, cultural venues, etc. Those are the things that make a pleasant environment for all, whether they use them or not. What a boon for ALL citizens the Lady A Amphitheater has been in Evans! It brings $$ in the door directly and indirectly, and makes the community a more desirable area to live in, shoring up property values, tax base, etc.

As far as actually funding, and/or promoting for profit entertainment, then I certainly agree with LL; they have no business there.

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