Decisions, decisions: Sun shines too late for Fridays

NEWS- Decisions, decisions: Sun shines too late for Fridays

By Thursday, September 18, the Downtown Mall was stripped bare in anticipation of Hurricane Isabel. Gone were the tables and chairs where mall habitu├ęs normally lounge. Gone were the newspaper racks. Gone even were the letters on the marquee of the Regal Downtown 6.

The Charlottesville Downtown Foundation also prepared for Izzy: It canceled the September 19 Fridays after 5 and its scheduled musical act, Foreigner.

Then Friday dawned– warm, calm, and sunny.

"Arrrggghhhh," was the pained reaction of Fridays committee chair Tony LaBua when he realized that once again, Fridays after 5 had become a victim of the weather.

"Had we not canceled, and it rained, we'd still owe them $10,000 for not playing," says LaBua. "They cost 20 grand, and we had to send in $10,000 in advance."

Jon Bright, who was a Fridays founder, sympathizes with organizers trying to make the call whether to cancel with a hurricane in the forecast. "A lot of times, you have to make those decisions according to the contract," he explains. "You have to cancel by a certain time or you lose the deposit or the whole thing. From the outside, it looks like, why did you cancel? From the inside, it's better to lose $1,000 or whatever the deposit is than $20,000."

He adds, "Outdoor concerts are very iffy situations. The bands are gambling along with you."

Foreigner shot to fame in the late 1970s with a seemingly non-stop array of hits that included "Cold As Ice," "Double Vision," and "Feels Like The First Time." While some critics derided the group– along with Journey, Styx, and REO Speedwagon– as just another hair band, their hit-making ability went undaunted. Such tunes as "Head Games," "Hot Blooded," and "Juke Box Hero" continue to make karaoke history.

Fortunately for Foreigner fans, the Charlottesville show has been rescheduled for Sunday, September 28.

Still, the cancellation on a sunny day was the latest insult to the outdoor event hit hard by the weather and by organizers' decision to charge admission for the former freebie.

"We had five or six cancellations at the beginning of the summer because of rain," says LaBua, who referred The Hook to CDF director Gail Weakley for the exact number of rained-out shows. Weakley did not return phone calls by press time.

And has the $3 admission charge affected attendance? "Absolutely," replies LaBua. "It's definitely affected attendance, but it's also increased our revenues."

When corporate sponsorships plummeted over the past two years, Fridays was hit hard. But the financial situation seemed to be improving. "After Marshall Tucker [on September 5], it was the first time we were showing a profit," says LaBua. "It got us out of debt."

And then came Isabel. LaBua still thinks there's a chance Fridays can finish the season without sinking back into the red. "To stay out of debt, we need to finish the season strong," he says. That means no more rain on the last four shows– including the rescheduled Foreigner– before the season ends October 10 with L'il Ronnie and the Grand Dukes.

The latest instance of best-laid plans foiled by a sunny Friday has sparked some debate about which event has worse luck: Fridays after 5 or the Albemarle County Fair, which suffered a collapsed tent during an August 28 squall.

"Albemarle County Fair," votes LaBua. "Something happens there every year."

Fair president Barbara Shifflett says, "Most every event since the beginning of the year has had a challenge with weather. Everybody has been plagued with bad weather."

So which has worse luck, Fridays or the fair? "Ours is longer lived," concedes Shifflett. "We've have some bad luck for five years. But we'll keep trudging on."

Jon Bright casts his vote for the downtown event. "This year it seems Fridays after 5 has worse luck."

But, over time, he concedes that the County Fair is a strong contender for worst luck. "It's a cyclical thing. How do you keep getting that same cycle?"