Freebie no more: Fridays After 5 eyes admission charge

For 15 years, Fridays After 5 has been Charlottesville's symbol for summertime when the livin' is easy, the free concerts drawing thousands to the Downtown Amphitheater to throw a blanket on the grass and chill out to tunes.

For its 16th season, part of that equation is going to change. The Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, which organizes the events, is weighing admission fees of $3 to hear local bands and $5 for national acts, with partygoers 18 and under exempt from the fee, according to CDF president Mike Cvetanovich.

Why charge an admission? "We are the only venue in the state that hasn't charged," answers Fridays organizer Tony LaBua. "Costs are astronomical, and sponsorships are dropping." (The Hook is a sponsor.)

"We're going to scale up and bring in some national acts," says Cvetanovich, who's a musician himself. "I want to try to bring in a more well-rounded, higher-caliber degree of music to Charlottesville." So far, 1980s stadium-packers Foreigner and Little River Band are confirmed, but Fridays will still be a venue for local musicians, Cvetanovich maintains.

Another change under consideration: a ban on coolers. One CDF official calls it a safety issue.

"Life as we knew it is not the same after 9/11," says this source, declining to elaborate on whether it's fear of a bomb or booze in a cooler that's prompting the change.

However, Cvetanovich says, "We don't want people to bring in their own alcohol."

And as for the days when you could bring a picnic, or even a slice of Christian's pizza, forget it if a proposed food ban goes into effect. "The ban on outside food is to support our vendors," says Cvetanovich, who stresses that a final decision has not been made. "I'd like to see a different scenario, but it's economics."

Currently, Domino's is the CDF-sanctioned pizza vendor, but Cvetanovich adds that any local restaurant is welcome become a food vendor.

The proposed changes have already prompted concerns from one Fridays regular, who fears an admission charge and ban on coolers will take away from the family aspects of the event.

"When you get Foreigner, Little River, and acts even bigger, I'm not taking my family there– it's too crowded," says a Fridays volunteer, who requested anonymity. And if picnics are forbidden, the event becomes more expensive for families.

That's not the intent, says Cvetanovich. "I don't want it to lose the community- and family-oriented nature of this event," he claims.

Final details should be released in the next week. "We've got a lot of exciting things planned," promises LaBua.


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