Published: Sunday, February 3, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, February 1, 2013 at 4:19 p.m.
Maybe you've spotted ZZ Top touring the St. Augustine Lighthouse, or Sublime surfing off St. Augustine Beach or Paramore visiting the St. Augustine Alligator Farm.
If so, you have the St. Augustine Amphitheatre to thank.
The venue attracts big acts to small St. Augustine. Ryan Murphy, general manager of the St. Johns County cultural division that runs the facility, said that exposing visiting artists to area attractions is key to getting them to return and tell others to do the same.
“Ninety-nine percent of the ones who have never been here before absolutely fall in love with the place,” he said.
Gainesville's newly released vision for its park system includes the idea of a performing arts venue in a large natural area. While the plan cites models such as Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts in the Washington, D.C., area, the St. Augustine Amphitheatre is closer to home and closer to what is possible here.
Murphy proudly notes that his venue ranked above Wolf Trap's Filene Center in concert publication Pollstar's list of top amphitheatres. The St. Augustine Amphitheatre placed 43rd in the country.
The amphitheatre's proximity to the ocean is part of its appeal. I can vouch for the appeal of the area, but have never visited the amphitheatre. Every time there's a show that I'd like to see — like Wilco — it's on a random weekday.
For that selfish reason, I'd like Gainesville to get an outdoor concert venue that books national artists. The University of Florida's band shell just doesn't cut it. Watching a show among dorm dwellers as university police patrol for drinking has lost its appeal to me.
The popular Free Fridays concert series at Bo Diddley Community Plaza shows that Gainesville is hungry for outdoor entertainment. Gainesville's parks plan envisions an amphitheatre with a much larger capacity in a beautiful setting with large oaks and a water feature.
Several possible sites were discussed at a workshop on the plan, including Depot Park. The idea of developing underutilized Alachua County Poe Springs Park as a performing arts center generated the most enthusiasm.
If Gainesville wants to show the best side of the area to visitors, springs are a good place to start.
With this area currently lacking a big amphitheatre, Ryan has worked with UF to bring acts such as the National Symphony Orchestra of Cuba to St. Augustine.
He has deep Gainesville ties, having lived and worked here for years before his current job. His master's in bilingual education led him to help organize the Harvest of Hope Festival benefiting farmworkers.
So would an amphitheatre work in Gainesville? While not exactly welcoming competition, Murphy said there's potential here.
There's of course issues like funding that would have to be figured out. But isn't it a nice thought that locals could one day have the chance to take a dip in Poe Springs with Wilco after a show there?
Email Nathan Crabbe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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