gaining notoriety

by mischele miller
The massive stage is now vacant, replaced by a symphony of crickets and birds chirping in the surrounding trees. Remnants of props used for Winter Wonderland are being collected for storage and the Amphitheatre is being prepared for its next big event, Art Garfunkel and the JSO in early February.
Just one year after extensive renovations, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre has been nominated for the prestigious Pollstar Red Rock Award, presented to the best of the best outdoor venues with less than 10,000 seats. The award will be given January 30th in Los Angeles at Club Nokia. The awards have a twenty-year history and have covered everything from Innovation of the Year for the 1988 Benefit Telethon and Most Creative Stage Production (Blue Man Group in 2003) to Best Small Outdoor Venue, re-named the Red Rock Award in honor of Colorado’s venue, which has won the award several times.
The St. Augustine Amphitheatre’s capacity is 4,000, which makes it the smallest venue nominated. The Amphitheatre will be competing against Chastain Park Amphitheatre in Atlanta, the Filene Center in Virginia, the Greek Theatre in Berkeley, CA and the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. Just being nominated for the Red Rock Award will place the Amphitheatre in a new realm, gaining notoriety and respect. Artists who want to play the best will want to play at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
“We have a very small staff, we work very hard and the nomination for the award makes it all worthwhile,” says Dan Larson, Marketing and Promotions Manager.
Since most of the ticket money comes from out of town, national recognition of the Ampitheatre like the Red Rock Award nomination will bring more revenue into St. Johns County and help the facility continue to to offer their events at very affordable prices, something they take great satisfaction in. A regular concert will bring in 70% of its revenue from the out-of-towners and that means money pouring into St. Augustine. People will stay in motels, eat and shop while they visit. In the past year, many renowned performers have graced the stage in the nation’s oldest city. The likes of Kid Rock, Steve Miller Band, ZZ Top, George Thorogood, the Beach Boys, Modest Mouse and Tony Bennett have all performed at the Amphitheatre.
Larson’s eyes gleam with pride as he talks about the venue and the work that went into making it a sucess: “St. Augustine Amphitheatre is the hot new Amphitheatre in the country. It is stiff competition, but we are in it to win. We definitely have something special. This past year has been phenomenal and we are very proud of it… One of the great things about this past year is that we broke even on expenses, we actually made money on the first year of operations, which is a great feat.”
While breaking even doesn’t sound like a feat, it is not uncommon for venues to have a long history of losing money before ever breaking even and going on to make a profit. Award or no award, the staff at the Amphitheatre have pulled a rabbit out of a hat, on second thought, make that an elephant. Ryan Dettra, the facility’s General Manager, admits that operating the Amphitheatre in a government setting is a “tough challenge.”
“We are actually the cultural division of St. Johns County and the Cultural Events Division of St. Johns County, so we also manage the St. Johns County Fairgrounds. We have several great events coming up next year. It’s going to be phenomenal.”
Asked about his goals for the Amphitheatre, Ryan doesn’t miss a beat and enthusiastically declares his intention to establish the Amphitheatre as one of the top facilities worldwide. No doubt Ryan Dettra and Dan Larson will make this happen. Striving to be the best is something these two take very seriously.
Dettra is well known to music lovers in St. Augustine because of the great musicians he’s showcased at Cafe Eleven. He brings that expertise of booking top talent to the county’s venues. One event Ryan is most looking forward to is the Harvest of Hope Festival, a 3-day event at the St. Johns County Fairgrounds, held March 6th through the 8th. He hopes to make this an annual event (like Winter Wonderland). See page 30 for more information on this not-to-be-missed event.
Ryan’s pet project is Winter Wonderland, which boasts the only outdoor ice-skating rink in Florida, along with ice-slides, sleigh rides and s’mores over bonfires. Over 50,000 people attending the event last year.
Upcoming performers for Ampitheatre include Art Garfunkel and the JSO, Bonnie Raitt with Ryan Shaw, Willie Nelson, Chicago, Joe Cocker and the Beach Boys. It’s been a positive experience for the performers who have visited the Ampitheatre in the past. Says Larson, “Steve Miller absolutely loved the acoustics and O.A.R. wants to come back. Everybody wants to be a part of the Amphitheatre. It is one hot commodity!”
Out of curiosity, I asked Dan if any of the bands had any peculiar requests. He chuckled, telling me that Widespread Panic’s rider in their contract specifically states: “Everybody must have a smile on their face at all times and the food must have lively and colorful adjectives in their names.”
One thing’s for sure, everyone in St. Augustine will have lots to smile about if the Amphitheatre is granted recognition as the best of the best. Here’s hoping they bring home the Pollstar Red Rock Award.