Pop Rocks: Lady Antebellum Pavilion pays for 'scheduling conflict'

I know it’s early days, but I have to wonder whether the booking business at the Lady Antebellum Pavilion isn’t in some serious trouble.

While the inaugural concert, featuring the record-busting band the venue is named for, did incredible business, there’s been a precipitous decline since.

The high-profile Masters Week concert featuring Augusta’s own Josh Kelley filled very few of the field’s estimated 5,000 audience spots and this past Friday, a package concert featuring the rock acts Seether, Chevelle, Black Stone Cherry and New Medicine was cancelled due to “scheduling conflicts.” It was to have taken place on May 3.

Here’s a little secret. Touring acts don’t run into scheduling conflicts. Not on confirmed dates. Not less than a month out. They run into economic conflicts. I know the promoter of this show must be just as disappointed as the fans.

Both these relative booking failures do beg the question of what, exactly, is working and, more to the point, not working at the amphitheater?

Based on Augusta’s sometimes stormy relationship with touring acts, the events that have proved successful in recent years and the troubles other local venues have experienced, I have a couple theories.

The Josh Kelley, quite honestly, broke the first rule of Augusta concerts. Concerts held during the Masters – particularly during the tournament proper – have an uphill battle. While some smaller events – bar bands and the occasional shag party, for example – have done reasonably well, only Rock Fore! Dough has routinely brought in big audiences during Masters Week.

Competing against that event and the tournament itself is a fool’s errand. Bill Cosby faltered when he attempted the same feat several years ago, and despite his homer status, Kelley isn’t the Cos.

The Big Rock Show is a little more complicated case. I would guess the relatively lackluster box office of the Staind/Godsmack concert at James Brown Arena played into the Seether/Chevelle calendar mishap. I mean, it’s possible that a small army of agents and managers might have May for March or some such thing, but it seems unlikely.

No, my guess is they were scared of the mark by either the cost of producing the show at the pavilion or the disappointing ticket sales of a recent concert aimed squarely at a similar demographic – perhaps both.

There are events on the pavilion’s books that stand a reasonable chance of success – most notably the freshly relocated Banjo-B-Que. There are others, such as a concert by ’80s icon Rick Springfield that I am curious about. But as a whole, I feel like the Lady A Pavilion is off to a rocky start that will take considerable effort to bounce back from.

So what is the answer?

A lot of money was invested in the construction of this venue, one that could, in the right hands, become a true boon for the community. But finding those right hands is something that needs to happen, and quickly.

Although Columbia County owns the venue, the government is ill-equipped to navigate the complicated waters of concert booking. It’s a demanding profession that requires the kind of vigilance and attention that only a dedicated contractor or employee can provide.

It’s the reason shows at Bell Auditorium and James Brown Arena (Staind and Godsmack excluded, of course) have done so well. Those venues have Global Spectrum overseeing their operations and bookings. It’s a professional operation. The kind of operation the Lady A Pavilion needs to be and hopefully will become.

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