LAKESHORE - Although the remaining shows in the summer concert series at the Looney’s Amphitheater and Culture Center, have been cancelled after this weekend, events, plans and renovations at the complex continue to thrive, assure members of the Winston County Arts Council.
“The main thing behind the decision is economics,” pointed out Bart Crabtree, owner of Sipsey Entertainment, a company he created to provide a series of concerts featuring tribute artists for a wide range of hitmakers, including Pat Benatar, Heart, Journey and Rascal Flatts.
Crabtree and his wife, Renda, used some of their personal finances to create the Sipsey Entertainment Foundation, which was used to secure and pay for the live entertainment, Crabtree stated.
“Unfortunately, after 12 concerts, we’re still unable to get a quarter of the seats filled and sold,” Crabtree pointed out. “So that amount of money that was allocated to support the concerts pretty much is at a point where we had to make a decision, are we going to go forward or are we going to set a stopping point,” Crabtree pointed out.
Although all live acts set for Dual Destiny, are being cancelled after July, Sipsey Entertainment still has a financial obligation to those bands, Crabtree explained.
“We assumed the risk completely ourselves,” Crabtree stated.
Sipsey Entertainment will continue, but will no longer be an outlet for funding to secure and pay bands in the summer concert series, he said.
The mission began as a venue to help the Looney’s complex renovate, after it was purchased and came under the ownership of the arts council.
“My wife and I have always had a heart for giving,” said Crabtree.
Crabtree’s new development off Highway 278 at Lakeshore where a pavilion has been constructed at the former location of Pawpaw’s Restaurant, will be an area for food trucks and alcohol sales. A percentage of the sales, once the property is established, will be applied toward the Sipsey Foundation, which will continue to be applied toward Looney’s ongoing development, Crabtree stated.
The Foundation will also be used to refurbish trails in the Bankhead Forest, according to Crabtree.
However, the concerts in the summer series created debt, which can no longer be endured, organizers said.
“Actually, we probably went longer with it than we really needed to,” admitted Crabtree. “We probably should have cancelled them earlier.
“Just from the conversations I’ve had with folks who were interested in coming and seeing the shows, there are not enough services in the area to support people coming into the area, whether it’s food or things like that.”
Crabtree’s ongoing development off 278 near the Looney’s complex (being referred to as a food park) is being designed to give the public a place to mingle, eat, purchase alcohol and support the entertainment which will be upcoming at Looney’s, organizers said.
“This food park is being born out of the awareness coming from people coming to shows. We know we have to have other ways to support people coming in, with food and entertainment.
The Dual Destiny Theater has 271 seats. For an average show in this summer’s concert series, only 60-80 seats were filled, with each band or act performing on both Friday and Saturday night.
“Early on, we were giving away seats,” said Crabtree. “We did a lot of promotions and things like that.”
Some bands that performed at Dual Destiny were leaving venues where they were playing for 5,000-plus people. “And they come here and play for 65,” he noted.
“That tells me we have more work to do around here to get ready,” Crabtree said. “A lot of valuable knowledge has been gained. It’s a learning experience.”
Tickets already sold for shows that are now cancelled will be refunded back to the method used for payment, Crabtree assured.
“They don’t have to do anything. It’s already in the works,” he added. “There has been a lot of interest in the shows, but it hasn’t translated into pre-ticket sales.”
For instance, 30 tickets had already been sold for the Prince tribute, which had been scheduled for August 26, a show which originally had been intended for the amphitheater, according to Crabtree.
However, arts council members stressed the amphitheater needs major renovations before the public can attend an event there.
On an average, each tribute concert at Dual Destiny had about 45-50 pre-sold tickets, with only 20 more people attending on top of that, Crabtree said.
“We need more time to build up the support system in the community and to allow Looney’s time to finish everything they need to do there,” said Crabtree.
All of the bands were already paid in deposits, whether or not they performed, so most took the disappointment of being cancelled graciously, with the exception of a band that insisted on coming to Winston County.
Mock of Ages, the Def Leppard Tribute will perform Saturday, Sept. 23, at the grand opening of the Sipsey Food Park, according to Crabtree.
Cancellations not affecting Looney’s
Arts Council President J.D. Snoddy said the Looney’s complex is thriving, with entertainment events planned and renovations underway, despite cancellations by Sipsey Entertainment.
“This is not going to slow us down any,” Snoddy pointed out.
Snoddy said Sipsey Entertainment was completely separate from the Looney’s complex.
“We hate the concerts through Sipsey Entertainment didn’t come to total realization,” Snoddy stated. “We enjoyed the ones we had. We appreciate Sipsey Entertainment. They did their part, as far as what they told us they would do.
“Sipsey Entertainment was renting the theater from Looney’s,” Snoddy explained. “They were renting for 10 percent of the gate.”
The cancellations, he added, did not have any affect on Looney’s other than creating some open dates where shows had been scheduled at Dual Destiny, Snoddy emphasized.
“Looney’s isn’t designed to operate off the events that happened,” Snoddy said. “Looney’s is designed,with a budget that is operational, whether anything is going on there or not. That is how we set Looney’s up.”
In fact, Looney’s has two budgets, one that contains funds toward ongoing renovations and repairs, he said. Another budget is basically for operations, which is based built off contributions and donations, he added.
Looney’s has several events scheduled, including Altar Point, a group of Christian performances set for Aug. 2, at 6:30 p.m. at Dual Destiny.
On Thursday, Aug. 31, the Southern Ghost Girls return for a Wild West-themed murder mystery dinner show at the former Sister Sarah’s Restaurant. Their last event at that location in June sold out, Snoddy noted.
On Saturday, September 9 at, 7 p.m. and Sunday, September 10, at 2 p.m., the Blue Diamond Dancers will perform at Dual Destiny for $15, paid at the door.
Class and family reunions are being scheduled at Sister Sarah’s, where arts council meetings are also held to plan future events.
“We’re busy at Looney’s,” Snoddy emphasized. “We’ll continue to make improvements, but as far as operations, it is wide open.”
On Saturday, Sept. 16, the Free State Youth Fest will be held at the amphitheater, pending renovations. If the renovations do not allow, the event will be moved indoors to the Dual Destiny Theater, Snoddy explained.
See complete story in the Northwest Alabamian.