Koka Booth Amphitheatre set records and hosted new events for its 15th anniversary this year, despite fewer anticipated concerts and some rainy days.
An estimated 150,000 will visit the amphitheatre this season to attend nearly 90 concerts, festivals, movie nights and more.
“It was a great year,” said Lyman Collins, Cary’s cultural arts division manager, at the Cary Town Council’s meeting Thursday, Oct. 22.
Koka Booth Amphitheatre, off U.S. 1 on Regency Parkway in south Cary, is the town’s main outdoor performing arts facility. It is run by management company SMG.
Last year, the Cary Town Council approved a budget of $738,000 for the amphitheatre to have 15 national touring acts this year – the most in the venue’s history – to celebrate the amphiteathre’s 15th season.
On Thursday, the Cary Town Council approved a budget of $610,000 for next season. The venue’s budget year runs from November to October to coincide more closely with the performance season.
Outback Concerts, which promotes the shows, met a minimum requirement of 12 concerts for 2015, but was not able to produce the additional three concerts. Collins attributed that to touring schedules, including the availability of the artists.
But the 12 concerts still exceeded the revenue by $40,000 that had been anticipated for all 15 shows, he said. Revenue also bested the 2014 revenue record for the national acts by $75,000 – setting a new record for the most revenue in the amphitheatre’s history.
The amphitheatre also presented its first ever comedian this year, Jim Gaffigan, whose performance attracted more than 6,500 people – the largest attendance of the season.
The N.C. Symphony’s Summerfest, the event staff refers to as “the bedrock of the amphitheatre season,” faced some impact from weather this year, resulting in a 12 percent decline in attendance compared to 2014. But attendance still was 27 percent higher than historic averages.
This year’s festivals were also affected by weather but still generated more than $65,000 for the facility. More than 9,000 people attended the Diwali Festival, and more than 1,600 people attended the Triangle Oktoberfest, despite rain that canceled other events in the Triangle. This was the first year Oktoberfest was held at the amphitheatre.
“When you have an event like Diwali, which usually draws 12,000 to 14,000 people and you had rain all day until 6 o’clock and you still manage 9,000 people, that’s impressive,” Mayor Harold Weinbrecht said.
The Dragon Boat Festival, which was in its second year, was not affected by rain and more than tripled in attendance from last year.
“Attendance has just exploded for that with over 7,500 attendees over the course of the day,” Collins said. “We had, like, 2,000 (people) last year so that was another really positive aspect.”
Councilwoman Lori Bush praised the staff for providing a wide variety of events.
“There was something there for everybody,” she said.
Town officials and staff plan to continue strengthening amphitheatre staples during the 2016 season, such as the national touring acts and Summerfest, while adding new features, including the Chinese Lantern Festival next month.
The new season will include 13 national concerts, featuring a mix of rock, adult contemporary and country artists; a nine-concert Summerfest Series with a Fourth of July concert; and the new Chinese Lantern Festival.
The Chinese Lantern Festival is part of the 2016 budget because it does not begin until November. The festival, from Nov. 28 through Jan. 3, will feature 20 lighted displays, each comprised of hundreds of parts and thousands of LED lights.
“They will begin unloading the shipping containers with these fantastical structures, probably I’d say early November,” Collins said. “We’re super excited about it.”
A new amphitheatre general manager also will join the team by mid-January to replace current General Manager Becky Colwell, who is taking another job out of state.
While the facility operated at a $103,000 deficit this year, the lowest subsidy since 2012, town staff anticipate that the facility will operate at a $233,000 deficit next year. Per budget trends, it is likely that the final deficit will come in significantly lower.
“This is consistent with the approach that we’ve taken to present a conservative budget so that we are not caught with surprises,” Collins said.
In other business, the council:
▪ Tabled until Nov. 19 the rezoning of 41.48 acres on the south side of Westhigh Street about a half mile west of Cary Parkway. The zoning conditions include limiting land use to a maximum of 89 detached dwellings.
▪ Held a public hearing on the proposed rezoning of 7421 O’Kelly Chapel Road, 10925 Green Level Church Road and a 1.79-acre unaddressed parcel on O’Kelly Chapel Road to allow a maximum 8,300-square-foot day care and maximum 13,300-square-foot, two-story office building. It was referred to the planning and zoning board.
▪ Received a report from Waters and Company Executive Recruitment during closed session on the town manager candidates. Weinbrecht said the council would review it and meet at a future date.
Kathryn Trogdon; 919-460-2608; @KTrogdon
Here are attendance figures for the national touring acts this season:
Jim Gaffigan: 6,622
Alabama Shakes: 5,774
Old Crow Medicine Show/Sturgill Simpson: 5,431
Colbie Caillat and Christina Perri: 4,441
Tedeschi Trucks: 4,347
Gregg Allman and The Doobie Brothers: 4,018
Chris Tomlin: 4,000
Weird Al: 3,578
Robert Plant and The Pixies: 3,058
Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion: 2,561
Peter Frampton and Cheap Trick: 2,256
Culture Club: 1,658
Town of Cary