August 11, 2012 4:09:21 PM
Jeff Clark - [email protected]
BY JEFF CLARK
Although she is only 28, Columbus resident Dana LeBlanc is a lifelong Crosby, Stills and Nash fan. When the opportunity arose for LeBlanc to see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame members, she didn't hesitate to drive in the rain less than an hour to hear them at the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater July 11.
"I've been a fan of Crosby, Stills and Nash for a long time and hearing them live was on my bucket list," said LeBlanc. "I wasn't about to let a little rain stop me. I rocked a ponytail and a poncho while they rocked the house. The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater is a great venue. The facility is nice and well-kept and it's conveniently close to downtown Tuscaloosa. And there's not a bad seat in the house. It can't get much better than that."
LeBlanc is one of many Northeast Mississippi residents making the short drive down Highway 82 East to participate in the concert series at the amphitheater. In just the last two-month time period, the venue has hosted acts as varied as Ringo Starr, the Counting Crows and country icon Merle Haggard. And with second level tickets usually ranging between $25 and $40, the entertainment is not only high quality but also economical.
"The Tuscaloosa Amphitheater is such an amazing venue," said Karen Stanley of Columbus. "They have taken a beautiful spot on the river and given us all types of entertainment to enjoy. Being only an hour from home when the concert ends is a big added plus in my book."
The big picture
Nestled along the banks of the Black Warrior River, the 7,470-seat amphitheater is a part of a larger renovation project along the Jack Warner Parkway.
Tuscaloosa recently received a grant for $742,240 from the National Scenic Byways Program for the continuation of the Riverwalk, picnic amenities, sitting areas and scenic overlooks, a city official said. This project will construct a 12-foot-wide, asphalt-paved, shared-use pedestrian and bicycle trail along the Black Warrior River Scenic Byway. The new addition extends 1,100 feet between the south bank.
"Several years ago, our citizens created the Riverfront Master Plan, which has resulted in the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater, River Market at Manderson Landing and miles of pedestrian and bicycle shared paths. By receiving this grant, we continue the community's vision to connect the river with our city," said Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox.
The approximately $18 million amphitheater opened April 1, 2011, weeks before a violent and deadly tornado ripped through the city.
"The first show we had was the Avett Brothers and Band of Horses and it was a sellout," Tuscaloosa Director of Arts and Entertainment Wendy Riggs said of the city-owned facility, which is funded through a two percent tax on hotels and motels. "We did nine shows the first season and we sold out the Avetts, Wide Spread Panic and Kenny Chesney; and Miranda Lambert and Steely Dan were near sellouts."
Riggs said the amphitheater booked more shows this season, almost double the 2011 season.
The Tuscaloosa News reports shows such as the Counting Crows and The Dukes Of September, which featured Steely Dan's Donald Fagen, Boz Scaggs and Michael McDonald, had dismal ticket sales. But Riggs is optimistic about the rest of the season, which will end in early November.
"Hank Williams Jr. did well and Luke Bryan was almost a sellout," said Riggs. "The tickets for Neil Young and Alan Jackson are selling really well."
While some may not associate Tuscaloosa with big-name entertainment, the city and the University of Alabama have a long history of drawing music legends. The Who, Neil Young, Santana and Lynyrd Skynyrd are just a few of the bands that played shows in Tuscaloosa during the 1970s and 1980s.
"Before we joined Fleetwood Mac, Stevie (Nicks) and I played a lot of shows in Tuscaloosa and Birmingham," said Lindsey Buckingham during a recent performance at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center in Birmingham, Ala. "We would play shows in Los Angeles and no one would show up, but you guys were always great to us."
Talent for the amphitheater is booked through Red Mountain Entertainment in Birmingham. The agency also books The Amphitheater at The Wharf in Orange Beach, Ala., and The Woods at the Fontanel in Whites Creek, Tenn. Riggs said Red Mountain is part of the formula of success for the amphitheater.
"It's a combination of things that make us successful," Riggs said. "Red Mountain is able to get some great artists because of their routing and they can sometimes route an artist through three venues. But the venue itself has a lot to do with it. We are hearing a lot of great things from agents and artists -- people like to come here."
And people are going to the amphitheater, including people from throughout the region.
"In 2012 the Amphitheater has been or will be host to over 20 concerts, including B.B. King, Kelly Clarkson, Chicago, Kool and the Gang, Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Chris Daughtry and more," said Susan West, CEO of the Tuscaloosa Tourism and Sports Commission. "The amphitheater attracts locals as well as folks within a 100-mile radius, including Birmingham and Columbus. If you haven't experienced this great outdoor venue, give it a try."
Riggs confirmed the draw from the region to the venue.
"We did a ticket chart to see where we are selling tickets," said Riggs. "We sell a huge amount in Tuscaloosa and Northport and the area. But we also sell a great deal of tickets to people in Mississippi, Tennessee and Georgia."
"The amphitheater was a great venue," said Dr. Shana Sullivan of Saum Chiropractic Clinic in Columbus, who saw Lambert in concert in 2011. "There was not a bad seat and the sound was amazing -- not like any other outdoor concert I have been to. Miranda (Lambert) was high energy from the minute she hit the stage. I'm looking forward to my next concert there."
Mississippi native B.B. King and the Tedeschi Trucks Band will play the Tuscaloosa Amphitheater Saturday, Aug. 25. Tickets are available at tuscaloosaamphitheater.com.