Southwest Wake News

Cary’s Koka Booth Amphitheatre breaks records, eyes more in 15th year

Jack Johnson performs at Koka Booth Amphitheatre May 21, 2014. The concert was one of two sell-out shows in the 2014 season and beat out the 2013 show by the Lumineers as the highest grossing concert ever at the venue. Darius Rucker was the other sell-out show in 2014.
Jack Johnson performs at Koka Booth Amphitheatre May 21, 2014. The concert was one of two sell-out shows in the 2014 season and beat out the 2013 show by the Lumineers as the highest grossing concert ever at the venue. Darius Rucker was the other sell-out show in 2014. ssharpe@newsobserver.com

Koka Booth Amphitheatre set records last season, and town leaders are now setting their sights higher for the venue’s 15th anniversary.

Last month, the Cary Town Council approved a budget of $738,000 for the amphitheater that will allow it to seek 15 national touring acts in 2015 – four more than this year and the most in the venue’s history.

Koka Booth Amphitheatre, off U.S. 1 on Regency Parkway in south Cary, is the town’s main outdoor performing arts facility. The facility is run by management company SMG. Shows are promoted by Outback Concerts.

The spending plan comes after two major concerts sold out this year for the first time and attendance for N.C. Symphony’s Summerfest – an amphitheatre staple – rose nearly 40 percent.

The facility generated about $50,000 more revenue overall than expected, or about 30 percent more, said Lyman Collins, Cary’s cultural arts manager, at the Oct. 30 council meeting. The venue’s budget year runs from November to October to more closely coincide with the performance season.

“Revenue and attendance were up in almost every category,” he said.

Tickets sold out for the Jack Johnson and Darius Rucker concerts at the amphitheater, which seats about 7,000 people. The Johnson concert was the highest grossing show in the venue’s history, and several concerts were played for crowds of about 5,000 people, Collins said.

The venue sometimes goes toe-to-toe against Red Hat Amphitheater in Raleigh to book big artists, said Becky Colwell, who manages Koka Booth for SMG. Koka Booth wins, she said, because some artists want a more serene atmosphere.

“We have the trees and the lake and more parking … it’s a different vibe,” she said.

Every year, amphitheatre management sends surveys to residents asking what performers they want to see. The town can’t say which artists it will pursue until the surveys are complete and management finds out which artists will be touring next year.

Meanwhile, other locally planned events have generated success and drawn high attendance. A record 4,000 people showed up in May to watch the film “Frozen” as part of the “Movies by Moonlight” series at the amphitheater.

Festivals generated more than $70,000 for the facility. More than 12,000 people attended the Diwali Festival, the second-highest attendance of all festivals in the amphitheatre’s history. The venue also welcomed the new Dragon Boat Festival, and food festivals. Those events will remain important to the venue’s programming, staff said.

Despite its successes, facility managers anticipate that Koka Booth Amphitheatre will again operate at a deficit next year.

The facility operated at a $122,000 deficit this year, down from $150,500 last year. Town staff anticipates that the facility will operate at a $210,400 deficit next year. The projection reflects a conservative budgeting approach, Collins said, as well as additional funding needed to attract and promote 15 major artists and boost average Summerfest attendance from 2,200 people a night to 3,000 a night.

The council didn’t take issue with the higher deficit. Instead, council members praised town staff for continuing to improve operations at Koka Booth.

“It seems that every year the amphitheater climbs another rung on that ladder and gets better and better and better,” Councilman Don Frantz said. “People wanted to go to Koka Booth, and the numbers show it.”

Koka Booth Amphitheatre has produced about $2 million in local tax revenues and generated more than $63 million in spending in Wake County since it opened in 2001, according to a recent study by the Greater Raleigh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“The amphitheater’s the crown jewel of Cary,” Councilman Ed Yerha said.

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