Originally created 09/25/98

Plenty of blues, not enough beer



Perhaps the recent B.B. King Blues Festival at the Augusta-Richmond County Civic Center should have been called the booze festival.

Imbibers were so prolific that the beer well ran dry at several of the venue's pit stops.

As Austin Rhodes, radio personality and member of the Augusta-Richmond County Coliseum Authority, summed it up: "There are two things you never want to run out of: Lipstick at a beauty pageant and beer at a rock concert."

Pat Cumiskey, the civic center's general manager, said vendors underestimated the amount of alcohol that would be consumed at the concert based on the number of tickets that were sold.

The show, which featured Dr. John, Delbert McClinton and Jimmie Vaughan as well as Mr. King, was far from a sellout, but the 4,036 who attended relentlessly rocked the half-full (half-empty, however you prefer to look at it) arena and kept concessionaires busy.

Patrons of the civic center and Bell Auditorium spend an average of $4 on concessions, but at the B.B. King show patrons spent an average of $8.31.

"Even if they over-guessed, they wouldn't have over-guessed that much," said Christine Loftin, director of sales and marketing for the civic center.

It makes me wonder how the civic center plans on keeping the taps flowing when the Augusta Lynx East Coast Hockey League club begins play Oct. 15. Opening night is nearly sold out, with 4,699 tickets purchased by Tuesday.

Surely hockey will draw a crowd that likes to imbibe, by and large.Most venues I've been to in other cities stop selling alcohol at a certain point, either at a specific time, like 9 p.m., or when the headlining act hits the stage, and they post or advertise this fact. Maybe this would be a good plan for the civic center. It will make people mad, but it might save face for civic center officials and prevent some scrambling for concession workers.

Mr. Cumiskey said alcohol sales will stop at the beginning of the third period at the Lynx's 35 home dates. Beer trucks will also be "standing by" in the parking lot at hockey games and other events where beer is sold.

As for the B.B. King show, it was a blast, and I think anybody who attended will attest to that.

The crowd was docile until about a quarter of the way into Mr. McClinton's set, when a few brave souls took the floor and began to dance, oblivious to 4,000 onlookers. Hundreds more soon lost their inhibitions, and the floor was packed and remained that way through the night.

Mr. King, who turned 73 a day before the show, is still an incredible performer. His slashing guitar solos are often imitated but rarely duplicated. He only showed his age by sitting in a chair for much of his set.

Will Augusta see more shows like this at the civic center and Bell Auditorium?

Even though it was deemed a success in terms of concessions, merchandising and parking revenues, promoters lost money because so many seats went unsold, according to Mr. Cumiskey.

In order for Augusta to shake its reputation as a lukewarm concert market, shows are going to have to start filling the house.

"I'm just hoping everybody (who went to the B.B. King show) tells two people who tell two more people what they missed," said Mrs. Loftin.We'll see what happens when Gregg Allman plays the Bell Auditorium, tentatively set for Nov. 4.

Kent Kimes covers arts and entertainment for The Augusta Chronicle.