Hoping to build on the early success of the downtown amphitheater, Rock Hill events organizers are eyeing some big-name concerts at the newly renovated venue.
OK, big-name might be a stretch, but the three acts being considered should be familiar to country and pop fans.
The list is highlighted by the Marshall Tucker Band, a Southern rock group originally from Spartanburg. The band has shuffled in some new members since its founding in 1973, but still gets mileage out of hits like "Can't You See" and "Heard It In a Love Song."
Another candidate is the country band Little Texas, owners of a handful of hits in the 1990s such as the rollicking "God Blessed Texas" and the soulful ballad "What Might Have Been."
Then there's crooner Edwin McCain, a South Carolina native whose "I'll Be" tearjerker became a staple at high school proms a decade ago.
No deals have been finalized, but downtown development manager Candy Randall found that all three acts are affordable and available. The concerts would likely be held between May and September.
They would showcase the Old Town Amphitheater outside City Hall, where officials spent $75,000 last year to add risers, hand rails and better lighting. Once a little-used venue, the amphitheater has become a popular spot for concerts, outdoor movies and holiday parties. It can hold up to 1,000 people.
It's a key piece of the city's effort to use festivals and shows as a way to bring people into downtown. Last year, special events generated an economic impact estimated at $675,000, organizers reported.
"We're planning a full series of programming this year," said Stephen Turner, the city's economic development director. "We're still trying to find out what people in Rock Hill want, what they're willing to pay for."
Venue set for busy year
Downtown shows and festivals are seen as a boon for restaurants such as the Old Town Bistro, particularly in the otherwise poor economy.
"Every time they have events, my restaurant is packed," said bistro owner Stacey Giannatos. "Downtown Rock Hill doesn't need any more restaurants. It needs things to draw people. People want something different."
The annual Red, White & Boom festival during July 4th week attracted 12,000 people, organizers said. An outdoor movie series also landed positive reviews and crowds of more than 300 in its debut season.
Another movie series is planned this summer, with the classic film "American Graffiti" set to kick it off during the Come-See-Me festival on April 16. Later selections are "Out of Africa," "North by Northwest," "Tootsie," "The Wizard of Oz" and "The Color Purple." Films are shown on a 20-foot-wide projection screen.
The city looked into booking the Charlotte Symphony, but the group requires a stage of at least 48-by-48 feet, Turner said. That's about twice as big as what the current space can accommodate.
A permanent stage is part of the city's long-term plans. Until then, turnout at the concerts will provide a good barometer of public interest.
Randall gathered ideas from Winthrop students and found the college-age crowd would be interested in more downtown shows. Tickets prices haven't been determined, city officials said.
A fit for smaller towns
Little Texas typically charges about $10,000 per show, plus hotel rooms and meals, said Jeff Howard, the band's Nashville-based booking agent. A growing number of small- and medium-sized towns host concerts at public stages, said Howard, who has worked with artists such as Rick Springfield, Tanya Tucker and Diamond Rio.
"As long as you can keep ticket prices low, people will come out and make an event of it," he said. "The big markets, they do well in those, too. But there's a lot more competition with newer acts. The smaller towns definitely work better."
Other cities have found success with public performance venues. Zimmerli Amphitheatre opened 10 years ago in a park in downtown Spartanburg. The 1,200-seat venue now hosts 40 major events annually, from "American Idol" contestants to the R&B group New Edition, Spartanburg officials said.
The brainchild behind Rock Hill's amphitheater is Randall, who lived in Los Angeles and worked in show business early in her career before moving back east.
Now, she's looking to add more concerts to downtown's field of offerings.
"That has been a missing piece," said local music organizer Ashley Peeples, a member of the rock band Heavy Sandwich. "We have no performance space big enough to get those bands in, short of the Winthrop Coliseum. To have this option is huge."