JOPLIN, Mo. —
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Zac Cook and Mike Warren and six others kicked a footbag back and forth on May 8 while the sun was still up, before the music began at the Washington County Fairgrounds.
They came to see rock band Five Finger Death Punch perform in concert, with opening acts Trivium and In This Moment. As did Jennifer Carlton, who bought a T-shirt before the show began.
All three said they appreciated the extra space at the new location for the Arkansas Music Pavilion. The full venue, which resembles a smaller version of modern concert amphitheaters, is a big improvement from its past location in a mall parking lot, Carlton said.
“I’ve been to a lot of shows, especially at the mall,” Carlton said. “This is nice. It’s much more open. You don’t have to walk forever to get a beer.”
Staff members at the Arkansas Music Pavilion are under no illusion. They know that those three and all the other thousands of people turned out to see the band that would take the stage, not the venue itself. (Carlton said she would go to hell to see the right band.)
But having a new facility such as this makes it easier to get those kinds of bands, said Brian Crowne, general manager of what is dubbed the “Amp.”
“No matter what kind of artist is traveling or at what level of business they are at, they want to do the show that they have rehearsed,” Crowne said. “They need room to put their gear out and all their lights so they can put on the best show they can for fans.”
The construction of a new stage and pavilion at the fairgrounds means that the Amp can now attract bigger, more actively touring musical acts. And because Fayetteville, home of the University of Arkansas, is about 90 minutes away, Joplin area residents’ pool of available, accessible concerts got a little bit bigger.
“We looked at numbers from last year and found that 80 percent of any given show included people outside Washington County,” said Beth Goodwin, public relations manager for the venue. “It’s not just college crowds. We’re getting people from Bentonville, Springfield, Joplin, Little Rock, Tulsa and more.”
Arts center partner
The Amp is a part of the Walton Arts Center, purchased from Crowne and Suzie Stephens in 2011. Where the Walton Arts Center attracts touring Broadway shows, musicals, dance, plays and art exhibits, the Amp attracts rock, country and other musical acts more accustomed to playing in a festival-type atmosphere.
Where the crowd at the Walton will attend a number of different offerings, the acts featured at Amp have their own fans who are willing to travel. Such as Five Finger Death Punch.
“The thing I love about coming to an Amp show is that the crowds are so different from show to show,” Goodwin said. “Every show, we’re building new audiences. None of these people (at the May 8 concert) were probably here during Hank Williams Jr.”
Crawl from the mall
Five Finger Death Punch played the Amp on May 8, and the venue has hosted Cake, Wilco and Hank Williams Jr. since reopening. Future acts include Ted Nugent, Colbie Caillat, Gavin McGraw, Luke Bryan, Pat Benatar and Daughtry.
Crowne has a lot of experience running a venue, and he believes booking names such as those comes from years of treating entertainers well and building good business relationships.
But the new venue’s specs help. The new Amp includes:
- A cordoned-off area where buses and trucks can move directly behind stage for loading and unloading. Tour buses for the bands were parked about 20 feet away from the stage during the May 9 concert.
- A bigger, 40-by-40-foot stage, with plenty of room for bands and equipment. In This Moment brought an about three-foot platform where singer Maria Brink towered over the crowd and her bandmates. Behind her, there was still room for other band’s equipment, including Five Finger Death Punch’s showpieces.
- Enough space to seat about 3,500, complete with a seated VIP section, regular seats and grass spaces in a layout similar to a modern concert venue.
- The ability to expand the stage -- ironically, stretching the stage out means that the seating availability increases to about 6,000. The Amp used this feature for the recent Hank Williams Jr. concert.
- A 22,000-square-foot canopy covers the seating area, which features a four-foot natural grade for sightlines.
- Ample, festival-style lawn space, which leaves plenty of room for toilets, merchandise booths and concession stands. There’s also room for a second VIP section that offers a full bar, bar-style seating and full restrooms.
- More parking space in an area of town that offers better traffic management.
The new facility is a step up from the parking lot of the Northwest Arkansas Mall, the Amp’s past location. While there was space enough for crowds of around 2,000, there wasn’t enough to set up a permanent stage area or other logistical amenities for bands.
“There was plenty of parking,” Goodwin said. “But it was more of a logistical problem. Now we’re able to get trailers backstage, we have dressing rooms and the stage is bigger. It allows for more production, more lights they can put in the rafters.”
Moving equipment such as the large canopy from the mall to the fairgrounds cost about $56,000, Goodwin said.
Goodwin said the Amp is working to fill the rest of its summer schedule. The goal is to get about 15 shows a year.
But even though the Amp has just opened in its new site, there are plans to expand it further.
Crowne, who also owns George’s Majestic Lounge in Fayetteville, said a permanent location is in the future. The venue has a one-year lease agreement with an option to renew.
Once a location is nailed down, they can expand even further, he said.
“We’re still in the process of working on a permanent location,” Crowne said. “We are still committed 100 percent to building it. We’re just not sure where we are going to land. But we’re excited about what the fairgrounds has to offer.”