Capshaw's turf: CDF seeks new Fridays venue

When Charlottesville inked a deal to turn its amphitheater space over to rock promoter/real estate magnate Coran Capshaw, the people running Fridays After 5 wondered what role– if any– they would have in one of the city's most popular events.

Fears of no Fridays seemed assuaged in June after a meeting with a Capshaw rep, but the euphoria proved premature. The last show of the season is October 1.

"It is the last Fridays After 5 as we know it," says Eric Lamb, president of the Charlottesville Downtown Foundation, the group that has been running the show.

"This is huge," says musician Ray Caddell of Big Ray and the Kool Kats. "There should have been many public hearings. I think it deserved a referendum."

According to City Council Clerk Jeanne Cox, one public hearing on the amphitheater was held December 1, 2003.

Also, the meetings of the Charlottesville Industrial Development Authority, which negotiated the 40-year lease with Capshaw, are open to the public.

According to the agreement, the city and CIDA will give Capshaw $3.4 million in below-market loans. Capshaw will have to build and maintain the amphitheater– and occasionally allow the city to use it rent-free.

Caddell, who's played nine seasons at Fridays, mentioned the upcoming changes during his September 10 performance, and was amazed at the number of people unaware that Fridays on the lawn are history after this season. The new amphitheater will feature a giant tent with concrete covering the grassy lawn on the east end of the Downtown Mall.

"I think fine-tuning it is different from changing the physicality, the look, and the philosophy of the event," Caddell says.

City Councilor Blake Caravati disagrees. "We went to [Capshaw] to take it to the next level," he says.

The CDF, which holds the trademark to the "Fridays After 5" moniker, is so unsure of its future with Capshaw's company, Charlottesville Pavillion LLC, that it has formed a "venue search" committee, according to CDF director Gail Weakley.

"We were approached to take a different night of the week," says Lamb. "We felt that would be financial suicide. We're not going to have the same crowd on a Tuesday night as on a Friday."

" 'Financial suicide' is pretty dramatic," says Ken McDonald, who manages Capshaw's company. Several ideas for involving CDF in Pavillion LLC's plans have been discussed, according to McDonald, but no formal proposals have materialized.

"We asked them, how do you see yourself as a group in the new amphitheater? They're to come back with a proposal. I look forward to continuing to work with them," he says.

"They still want us to take care of the manpower," explains Lamb. "My first concern is how the charities would be funded."

CDF has long profited from beer sales, and poured money– an average of $70,000 annually, Weakley says– into various charities that provide security and serve the brews.

McDonald assures that there will be a Fridays event on Fridays– and a charitable component. "That's part of giving back to the community," McDonald says. "We're happy to talk to all of them."

Still, CDFers are not convinced they'll have a role.

"The contract says a Fridays-type event," says Weakley. "It did not guarantee a Fridays After 5. It did not guarantee the CDF. To see it all come to an end, it's sad."

The Downtown Foundation was formed in the late 1980s to revitalize the almost deserted Downtown Mall. "Anybody who walks down here can see we've accomplished our task," says Weakley, who points to the families and restaurants as obvious signs of a bustling cityscape.

"With no disrespect to CDF," says City Councilor Kevin Lynch, "I think they've done a great job. But that doesn't mean someone else can't."

"CDF has to fit into the future," says Caravati. "We're not going to fit the future into CDF."

Certainly there have been some historical grumblings about CDF management. In the group's early days, it won a city commitment for $150,000 but ended up getting just $115,000 due to difficulties raising matching funds. In 1992, the organization's finances were the subject of a police probe. And the 2003 decision to charge an entry fee proved so unpopular that Fridays went back to free admission this year.

Of course, management could do nothing about the rains that canceled seven shows and dampened attendance for eight others last year.

Lamb is disappointed that, with CDF's 17-year history with Charlottesville, the city leapt for Capshaw. "A lot of people had no idea it happened," he says. "One of our board members happened to be flipping channels and saw City Council approving it."

Caravati contends CDF has been "fully aware" of the plans to put Capshaw in charge.

And Lynch is pleased that Kirby Hutto, who ran the CDF from 1992 to 1996 and brought the almost-ready-for-primetime Dave Matthews Band to Fridays, has been hired as the amphitheater's general manager.

"Kirby has a good handle on the local and regional music scene," says Lynch. "And he did it on a lot smaller budget than they have now."

Lamb is philosophical that CDF's tenure with Fridays could be coming to an end. "It may be time for CDF to do new things," he says.

But Caddell, who performs all over America, is not so reconciled. "I'm horrified about it," he says. "No one has a venue as cute and family-friendly as we do. It's one of the few free events in the state, and that's part of its charm. It's who Charlottesville is.

"I just can't believe we gave away Fridays After 5– and we did," he says in disbelief.


Capshaw signed a 40-year lease on the amphitheater June 7.


Kirby Hutto: back in action


Ray Caddell is appalled by the upcoming changes to Fridays After 5.