Springfield Summer Arts Festival Kicks off tonight

Seven weeks of free entertainment includes 31 acts.

Why wait for the official start of summer on June 21 when the Springfield Arts Council will officially kick off the season in the city with the launch of the 56th annual Summer Arts Festival?

The Veterans Park Amphitheater will offer 31 acts over seven weeks, along with several special events tying in. Admission is the same as it was in 1967: free.

After the event was cancelled in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an abbreviated three-week festival that was very well-received last summer, the SAC team is set to make up for gaps.

“This encouraged us to go bigger than we have for years on this,” said SAC Executive Director Tim Rowe. “We’ve had many positive comments so far, and we have a larger number of returning popular acts.”

Tribute acts performing the hits of popular artists are a festival staple, and opening weekend brings it big with “The McCartney Years: Premier Paul McCartney Tribute” at 8 tonight.

Friday will see the festival resurrection of the most popular festival attraction since 2016, “Resurrection: A Journey Tribute.” The group has been absent since the 2018 festival and was booked for 2020 before its cancelation.

Resurrection has gained a huge following across the country in recent years, making them more in demand. Rowe monitors how acts perform at other venues and said seeing Resurrection at a ticketed venue can cost $40-$50.

The SAC spends $175,000-$200,000 a year on acts, all of which get paid to appear.

“Resurrection is one of our highest-priced acts, and it’s not always possible to get them every year, but we love to please our audience when we can by bringing back favorites if and when we can,” he said.

Rounding out opening weekend is a new tribute, “Elton Rohn: North America’s Premier Elton John Tribute” on Saturday.

The festival is also a showplace for local talent. June 15-17 will present the return of Broadway in the Park with the musical “Pippin.” The Youth Arts Ambassadors will later perform “Heathers: High School Edition” on July 20.

Other local musicians include the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, which has played in every festival since its beginning (July 10); the Nehemiah “Unity and Hope” Concert (June 26); Griffin House (July 9); and Wyatt McCubbin (July 16).

Rowe pointed out three acts he was especially pleased to get: Grammy-winners All-4-One (June 18) and “America’s Got Talent” favorites Sons of Serendip (June 30), both having played for the SAC at the Clark State Performing Arts Center previously, and a new act, “The Little Mermen: The Premier Disney Cover Band” (July 21).

“These are unique acts. The Little Mermen will appeal to kids and families or anybody who loves Disney songs,” said Rowe.

He also said there are a variety of genres including the return of gospel for the first time in several years.

As this is a non-ticketed festival, data isn’t available as to where attendees come from. Rowe said most come from the area, but arts festival staff checks license plates and finds some are out-of-town attendees, which can add to the local economy.

Some make a night of it, going to dinner beforehand or grabbing food to bring with them.

“We do hear from hotels and restaurant managers who know when we have big attendance nights,” he said.

Performers often use five to 10 hotel rooms and some stay for up to three days, which SAC covers, along with hot meals for performers as part of their tour rider, a list of requirements a performer requests.

The festival also provides summer jobs for students and several people who help with technical jobs.

Rowe said the 2022 festival should be more like what the public remembered it in the pre-COVID year of 2019. Lawn chairs and blankets can be set up starting at 6 a.m. on event days.

People are urged to check the SAC’s social media pages regularly in case of weather delays of is a performances is cancelled.

All performances will begin at 8 p.m., and special events will have varied start times.

A recent increase in local COVID-19 cases with more hospitalizations means attendees should use precautions to stay healthy while attending the festival, which can attract several thousand people certain nights. Health officials urged that people not be complacent.

Chris Cook, assistant health commissioner at the Clark County Combined Health District (CCCHD), suggested attendees “go with their gut” and use the same good advice when it comes to protecting themselves.

“You know your comfort level. People know if they are high risk and should use precautions,” he said. “Social distance if you can and wear a mask if you need. It’s an advantage to be outside, but Omicron is out there.”

CCCHD public information officer Nate Smith said getting vaccinated can help with peace of mind and people can do that to coincide with the festival. The CCCHD continues to offer OVID-19 vaccines, and will offer free at-home testing kits at a distribution event, 3-6 p.m. Tuesday at Springfield High School.

As the festival is admission-free, it still costs an estimated $350,000-400,000 to produce. If gas prices continue to rise, it could affect future festival expenses.

As the SAC is a non-profit organization, Rowe reminds how important fundraising events such as the Brewery Bash, bourbon tasting, sponsorships, annual campaign and others help in keeping the festival admission-free, including concession stand sales.

There’s also the nightly Pass the Hat donations at intermission. The 2022 goal is $60,000.

“It’s important for people to know the money they contribute goes right back into producing this festival to keep it free as it has been for 56 years,” Rowe said. “If we miss our goals, it could mean having to cut corners next year or in future years.”

For now, he’s thrilled to have the festival back at full strength and an eager audience.

“This festival is unique for a community our size,” Rowe said. “We like to think maybe someone who works all day can come home and then come down to the festival to see Resurrection or a bluegrass show and that enriches their lives or they can take their children to KidsFest on a Sunday.

“We’re one piece of a strong arts scene in this community along with the Springfield Symphony, Museum of Art, Clark State Performing Arts Center and Greater Springfield Partnership’s programs. All of these are important to make this area more enjoyable and family-friendly.”

For the complete festival lineup or more information, go to www.springfieldartscouncil.org/.