An Epic Celebration of Live Entertainment
The recent exit of Ryan Murphy as the driving force behind the St. Augustine Amphitheatre has left big shoes to fill. But it also cemented Murphy’s legacy as a forward-thinking leader who implemented a series of green practices to make the Amp a fully sustainable venue and put St. Augustine on the map as a live music destination.
Murphy stepped down April 20 after a decade-long tenure as the county’s Director of Cultural Events. He was responsible for programming at The Amp and Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, both county-owned and operated venues which he developed into profitable, innovative and community-minded endeavors.
In his role, he cultivated relationships with artists, city leaders and fostered a passion for community outreach. Murphy created the Sing Out Loud Festival in 2015 to create a platform for local, regional and national musicians to coexist in an epic celebration of live music.
“Someone like Ryan, he knows that he can have an impact deeper in the entertainment industry with this new endeavor. Ryan is the kind of person who wants to do the biggest amount of good in as big of a place as possible and the position that was presented to him really spoke to his core values and his ambition to make a huge impact,” says Public Relations and Partnerships Manager Dianya Markovits. “We absolutely supported him in his departure but there was a bittersweet emotion that we won’t get to have his really wonderful positive influence in our daily lives.”
The Amp is really an amalgamation of three performance locations. The Front Porch stage hosts mainly free shows, The Amp is the main stage and the Backyard Stage is a versatile gem able to host Kurt Vile or Shakespeare. Apex Theatre will present Shakespeare on the Backyard Stage July 16-17.
“Apex Theatre is presenting A Midsummer Night’s Dream and we think it’s a vital community asset. We’re really excited about it because Shakespeare plays were originally performed outdoors,” says Markovits. “This is a setting that really pays tribute to Shakespeare and really shows the diversity of the Backyard Stage.”
The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall is the sister venue in Ponte Vedra Beach, transformed from the bones of a former church into a place for a different kind of fellowship. Markovits says plans are underway to launch a significant renovation project to open the upper balcony once the logistics are in place.
“It’s still a work in progress. It’s such a massive undertaking. I think we had over 120 shows there last year so it’s been quite difficult for us to say, ‘okay, let’s shut this down for a bit’. It’s going to take a lot of coordination but we’ve done some really amazing upgrades,” she says of the new color palette and mosaic behind the bar. “We’ve made it a really gorgeous facility. Our Friendship Group is looking forward to making some improvements as well. Every year we look at what can we do incrementally to increase the comfort of this space, addressing the elephant in the room, without making it look like a church.”
Murphy was always thinking about the future. He led the recent rebranding campaign that brought the St. Augustine Amphitheatre to The Amp and helped set in motion a system of sustainable practices to reduce the imprint and establish The Amp as an eco-friendly destination. The effort landed The Amp on the list of the country’s top live music venues.
The Green Hands Initiative was introduced in 2014 and the campaign continues to grow strong roots. When Jack Johnson was seeking venues that employed green practices, Murphy realized it was the perfect opportunity to take a more proactive approach to environmental programming and attract artists who shared the same ideals. Johnson was looking for venues that adhered to the green practices outlined in his “eco-rider,” and he chose The Amp as his only Florida date.
Murphy took cues from Johnson and identified trends to pioneer the concept of a green facility. In addition to Johnson, artists like Rising Appalachia and O.A.R. are conscientious of how they impact the communities they play in when on tour.
“From there, we started saying let’s just go for it. Let’s go LED with our lighting. Let’s have a composting program here, let’s put recycling bins all over the venue. Let’s put in water refill stations and encourage people to bring in their bottles and refill those throughout the night,” says Markovits.
“That took us to a point where we really had to study how do we manage our waste? How do we reduce our imprint? How do we make improvements? One of the biggest ones we rolled out this season was our R-Cup, our reusable cup program. We think that we’re trailblazing.”
The R-Cup has helped the Amp eliminate the use of all single-use plastics and offers the reusable cup to patrons for a $3 deposit. The cup is refillable throughout a show and audiences have the option to take the cup home and bring it back to use at other events or returning the cup to receive their deposit back. The cups are thoroughly sanitized and managed for safe reuse.
According to Markovits, the average patron consumes a minimum of two drinks per show. A sold-out crowd generates up to 9,000 cups. “We put them into recycling but once they leave this premises, it’s quite difficult to track where they go. R-Cup is an international company and they partnered with major tours and festivals to create a reusable cup that a patron uses the entire time they are at a concert.”
To date, the R-Cup program has reduced the output of waste by 75 percent. The number of garbage bags has dwindled from 16 garbage bags per show to just four. “We’re at a critical point where we have to look at waste management and how do we impact our environment because if we continue at this pace, it’s not going to be good for the future. When you have 4,100 people in one space multiple times over the course of the year, it creates a lot of waste. How can we be more responsible with that waste?”
Shelby Dixon came on board in early June as the new Green Hands coordinator and hit the ground running to establish new sustainable benchmarks. Dixon is eyeing ways to eliminate more materials like single-use plastics. The Amp has previously partnered with the Gainesville-based organization called We Are Neutral to further reduce its carbon footprint.
“It comes from a place of how do we become better stewards of our environment,” says Markovits. “We’re on a state park. The Amphitheatre is located on Anastasia State Park so we are required to pay attention to how we affect our state park and we’re less than a mile from the ocean so it’s really important to us to protect this space for its longevity.”
The 4th annual Sing Out Loud Festival will usher the Oldest City into the fall season. The month-long event is an eclectic celebration of local, regional and national artists who perform at multiple venues throughout the city. Murphy unveiled the 2019 lineup as his swan song. Such an effort speaks to the care and investment in building a signature event that echoes his mission.
“Sing Out Loud has been such a beautiful evolution of what we call an epic celebration of live entertainment,” notes Markovits of the roster of 150 local and regional bands playing with these massive artists like Kurt Vile, Jenny Lewis and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band who will all perform on the Backyard Stage. “People come out to see free bands. You see people with their families and that’s the coolest part. And Kasey Musgraves choosing St. Augustine as a tour date was massive because people are scrambling to see her.”
The impact is felt on a county and city level. Merchants like the B&Bs are encouraging guests to extend their stay for the event. Proceeds from the Kasey Musgraves show Sept. 21 at The Amp, which as the only ticketed event sold out in an hour and a half, will benefit Horse Play, an equine-therapy center for children with disabilities, as well as the Green Hands organization. They will also partner with the school district to install water refill stations and have previously contributed to the One Orlando Fund.
Last year, Sing Out Loud donated nearly $100,000 to the Betty Griffin House last year through fundraising tickets from the Jason Isbell show. “That’s a game changer for that organization. They are able to do so much good because of that,” says Markovits. “To have all these partners and have everyone get on board is great. The first couple years, it could go either way but for us to be in our fourth year really speaks to the longevity of the festival. To know that we’re sticking around is really a beautiful thing.”