Amphitheatre, concert hall looking to grow audience with appearances like ...
The appearance this week of former President Bill Clinton and singer Tony Bennett at the St. Augustine Amphitheatre are part of a strategy to attract people who may not have considered going to the venue until now.
âWe have some new stuff, we have some new ideas,â said Ryan Murphy, general manager of the St. Johns County Cultural Events Division, which oversees the Amphitheatre and the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall.
âWe know what works here â" the baby boomer rock stuff, country does really well here, and the surf crowd really likes certain things. We can do that all day long,â but staff want to add other offerings, too, Murphy said.
Last year was a period of transition for the venue. Its leadership changed with the appointment of Murphy, and the venue came under a different county department, the St. Johns County Cultural Events division, now headed by Glen Hastings.
The shift in programming to include other types of events is an outgrowth of that transition.
âThis year, we wanted to do some different stuff, things that appeal to people who havenât been here before,â Murphy said.
And last year, the venue âwent into some uncharted territory like Selena Gomez, Wiz Khalifa. We had massive sold out crowds but really, really young crowdsâ such as the 12-to-14-year-old set for Gomez.
Another example was Thursdayâs production of âSeussical the Musical,â which brought in 2,700 St. Johns County elementary school children. The Amphitheatre has 4,092 seats.
âWe had kids that had never been there before,â Murphy said. âItâs just nice. Within a couple of years weâve seen a couple new generations of Amphitheatre-goers.â
Murphy and Natacha McLeod, division marketing and community relations manager, said staff are looking into attracting attendees from other areas, such as Brunswick, south Georgia, Amelia Island, Gainesville and Daytona.
Hastings, the Cultural Events executive director, agreed that the goal now is to broaden the scope for both the Amphitheatre and the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, which opened at the beginning of 2011 and also falls under his department.
Hastings said the market for the new events has existed; the county is simply expanding to address it.
âWith the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall, we started with that approach because we worked with PBS doing movie night,â Hastings said. âWeâve had some poets and other things who have appeared as well as the musical acts. We hope to get some plays and things that can go into the music hall as well, like theatrical performances.â
The Ponte Vedra Concert Hall has 450 seats and standing room for 875.
Since its opening, the hall has âdone pretty good,â Hastings said, though he added that concerts there arenât always big money-makers.
âBecause of the limited size, the revenue that you can make doing concerts isnât the greatest in the world, but we do all right on some concerts,â he said. âOthers are marginal.â
Hastings said division staff are to go before county commissioners Tuesday seeking permission to begin renting the hall for private events such as weddings.
âWeâre really excited to finally get to this point,â Hastings said. âWeâre excited because the demand seems to be really high for (private use of the hall) and it will introduce people to the facility. Basically, anybody could rent it out.â
He said staff approached the Limelight Theatre in downtown St. Augustine about doing a summer season of shows, and that may be an option for the future.
So far, the diversification strategy appears to be working at the Amphitheatre, Murphy said.
âWeâve had people scoping out the parking and Amphitheatre that have never been here before,â Murphy said. âThatâs great for us.â