Anna at the AMP: ‘Tis the season for live music

by The City Wire staff ([email protected]) 156 views 

FAYETTEVILLE — The Arkansas Music Pavilion’s winged white tent looks the same, though the location has changed. And there’s nothing at all ordinary about the lineup for the AMP’s 2012 season, its first at the Washington County Fairgrounds.

The Walton Arts Center, which owns and operates the AMP, has confirmed 10 shows and are negotiating with at least four more major acts, said Brian Crowne, the AMP’s general manager of operations and programming. Just eight shows have been announced, including the season opener, alternative rock band Cake, on Thursday (April 19).

Others include Big Gigantic with Paper Diamond and Dr. Fameus on Saturday (April 21), Hank Williams Jr. with special guest Jamey Johnson (April 28), Five Finger Death Punch (May 8), Wilco (May 10), Ted Nugent (June 10), Colbie Caillat and Gavin DeGraw with Andy Grammer (June 17) and Daughtry (June 17).

That leaves the rest of the summer and into the fall for more shows to be added. The only days the fairgrounds won’t be available — during the Washington County Fair (Aug. 28-Sept. 1) and during the Bikes, Blues and BBQ motorcycle rally (Sept. 26-29). 

The Walton Arts Center bought the AMP from Crowne and co-owner Suzie Stephens in February 2011, when the venue was located on the back parking lot of the Northwest Arkansas Mall. The arts center tried to secure a long-term lease for that spot, but negotiations broke down when the mall’s ownership changed hands last August. Just months before the start of the AMP’s 2012 season, the arts center struck a deal to relocate to the Washington County Fairgrounds for at least this season, maybe more.
The setup at the fairgrounds will be similar to what was available to patrons at the mall, minus the heat radiating off the asphalt parking lot. In the past, performers had commented on stage that it was strange to perform on a parking lot.

Seating at the AMP’s new location can be pared down to 2,000 and expanded to 6,500, if needed. One noticeable improvement — more grassy lawn space for lounging and dancing. More backstage space was also added to benefit the artists, and improvements were made to the fairgrounds’ lighting system.

As of Monday, the site was nearly ready, said Terri Trotter, the Walton Arts Center’s chief operating officer. A tour and meet-and-greet for media and sponsors is scheduled for Wednesday (April 18).

Transferring the AMP from the mall to the fairgrounds “has been done as frugally as possible,” Crowne said. A tally of costs associated with the move could be available as early as next week, Trotter said.

The arts center expects to finish the AMP season in the black, hopefully with revenue to spare, she said. Peter Lane, the center’s president and CEO, coined the phrase “rock pays for Bach,” meaning that commercially successful entertainment, such as the AMP concerts, helps subsidize some of the performance arts that come to the center at low cost to its patrons. Corporate sponsorships and donor support allow audience members to pay on average only 50 percent of programs offered.

“Those things that break even will help us with those things that will never break even,” she said of the AMP shows and other big-name productions.

The 2012 AMP season is varied, bringing the biggest names in the pop, rock, electronica, heavy metal and country genres. In what can be assumed is an effort to build intrigue, the AMP has been strategic with its concert announcements, choosing to release the information piecemeal to build anticipation.

Currently the biggest draw of the season is Hank Williams Jr., and opening act Jamey Johnson. Officials are anticipating a crowd of 6,500.

In its current configuration, the venue has a capacity of roughly 3,000. The crowd expected for the Williams show is more reflective of what the arts center expects for the future.

Upon completion of the season, officials will turn their full attention to finding a permanent home, which will still serve as a mid-range, outdoor venue. Reportedly, both the mall and the fairgrounds are still in consideration, along with other unknown properties.

In past seasons, nearly 80 percent of patrons to the AMP were from outside of Washington County. A venue of its magnitude is expected to increase patronage of local businesses, while adding to the vibrancy and culture of the Fayetteville and Northwest Arkansas entertainment scene.