Calm down: Fridays After 5 survives

It's been a nerve-racking year for the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, the organization that founded and puts on Fridays After 5. Fears have been growing since word first spread that Coran Capshaw was taking over management of the downtown amphitheater.

City Council's June 7 inking of a lease with Capshaw's Charlottesville Pavilion LLC did nothing to ease CDF fears, primarily because the lease promised only that there would be "a weekly free or low ticket price event during the concert season" that would be "similar" to Fridays After 5.

Frankly, organizers didn't know if they were even going to be involved with the "similar" event.

A June 16 meeting with Ken McDonald, Capshaw's rep for the amphitheater project, left foundation members reassured– but many details of how future Fridays will work are still to be determined.

Both parties agree the meeting went well. "We are in," says a happy Eric Lamb, president of the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation.

Their exact role is "not fully figured out," says McDonald. "We'll keep talking."

For instance, who will book the acts that play Fridays? McDonald wants "to make sure the talent booked is the best for that format." He hints at jam bands or beach music or even country for a more diverse lineup. "We do have access to a broader range of talent," he notes.

Another concern for the Downtown Foundation was whether a concert promoter like Capshaw would give up prime Friday nights for freebie Fridays After 5. Lamb reports that once or twice a season, Fridays could get bumped.

"If an opportunity comes up to book a larger national act while they're on tour in the area, we want to have that opportunity," says McDonald.

Last year, Fridays organizers made the controversial decision to charge admission. This year, the event is free again– but whether attendees will pay next year has not been decided.

"It's hard to say," says McDonald. "Most weekly events in the state that were once free have gone to a cover. I know that was controversial last year. We're definitely stepping up the quality of the venue and the quality of the entertainment. If we can increase sponsorship, that could help offset some of the costs."

One area about which both parties seem certain is maintaining Fridays' mission to support charities.

After the first meeting, Lamb's impression is, "We'll keep our same system in place but tweak it a lot and make it better for the charities. A lot of nonprofits depend on Fridays."

"Fridays has a big charitable component," stresses McDonald. "That's what we want to help them do."

The amphitheater design passed the Board of Architectural Review hurdle June 15, says McDonald. According to the lease, construction will begin October 3 and should be complete by May 15.

Lamb says construction will be finished by May 1. "It won't interrupt next season at all," he says.

For Lamb and his fellow CDF board members, the first meeting with the Capshaw camp was a relief. "We'd been hearing lots on the street," he says.

"As with any project, there are a lot of rumors that take on their own lives," says McDonald. "Until the lease was in place and BAR had taken a look at the plans, it was premature to talk about it."

"I certainly slept a lot better last night," says Lamb the morning after.

Charlottesville Downtown Foundation president Eric Lamb was ecstatic to find out there will still be Fridays After 5 under the Capshaw regime, but the foundation's exact role has yet to be decided.


Construction of the new amphitheater is expected to begin in October.