Priced out: Rains, City dampen Fridays' parade

With six of the first 10 Fridays After Five concerts cancelled or at least "affected" by rain, can the popular concert series survive its first season as a pay-per-view?

In March, the concert series run for the last 15 years by the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation (CDF) announced that a slump in sponsorships signaled the end of the free-for-all and that it would try to refill the coffers by charging $3-5 per concert. Then came the rains of May and June.

"I can't say [the rain] hasn't hurt our bottom line," says Tricia Goodloe, "but with a few more good weeks, we should be able to continue throughout the summer."

It won't be easy, however. On the eve of this summer's concert series, the city put a harsher contract before the CDF.

Gone are the days of paying the city just $550 per week to hold the event. The current contract obligates the CDF to pay $4,700 per week for such things as police security for the entire Downtown Mall– plus electricity, stage rental, and city workers.

And unless a decision to cancel is made by 2pm on Friday, says CDF director Gail Weakley, rain doesn't waive the weekly fee. If event-ruining rain hits later, she adds, "we're staring at $5,000."

Add in the band's fee– typically due whether or not the event goes on– and Weakley's headache worsens.

Low attendance has plagued this year's series even in weeks with good weather. This year's best turnout was for the May 2 Terri Allard show, when 3,000 people bought $3 tickets. Other weeks, unfortunately, have seen closer to 1,300 tickets sold, says Weakley.

What about beer sales? Both Goodloe and Weakley insist they're not as lucrative as they seem. After paying employees and charities, and purchasing the beer and cups, "We make about 27 cents per $3 beer sold," Weakley says.

The dark cloud over CDF doesn't end there. Fridays isn't the only event that's been adversely affected by terms of the new contract, Weakley explains. CDF now must pay the city fees for other events even those such as Court Square Days that are still free to the public.

"We had to cancel Kid's Parade," Weakley says.

Why must CDF pay so steeply?

"Fairness," says City spokesman Maurice Jones. All entities that charge the public to see shows produced at the Amphitheater or on other City property– are expected to pay. To treat Fridays differently would set the wrong precedent, Jones explains.

For instance, he says, the Blues and Brews festival that happens each September is subject to the same basic fees as Fridays.

But what about First Night Virginia, the alcohol-free New Year's Eve event? It's exempted from all fees, Jones explains, as part of the city's sponsorship arrangement, despite the admission fee. And since there is no alcohol served as part of the event, hiring police security is not an issue.

How about DMB manager Coran Capshaw's long-pending deal with the city for Amphitheater improvements? Will that mean more bad news for CDF? Could Fridays After Five go the way of the dinosaurs, making way for a new species of music event, perhaps Capshaw After Five?

Not according to Jones.

"I don't know of any other possibilities," he says. "We'd like to see it continue and be successful into the future."

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