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Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal will headline a show Friday at the Blue Ridge Music Center.
Rosanne Cash performs at the Blue Ridge Music Center on Friday night a 7.
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
For more than a decade, the Blue Ridge Music Center, near Galax, has presented a full summer schedule of live, traditional southern Appalachian music. And for just as long, the 3,000-capacity site on the Blue Ridge Parkway has been losing money on those acts.
This year, the Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation took over music programming at the site and began working on ways to make the music center at least sustainable.
On Friday night, Rosanne Cash and her husband and musical partner, John Leventhal, will headline a show there, with Wayne Henderson & Friends opening the concert.
Like every show at the center, it is relatively inexpensive — $20 gets you into the show. But unlike most other events, a much pricier pre-concert event will feature Cash, Leventhal and the luthier/guitarist Henderson in the facility’s small theater.
That ticket is $100, and it is a test of folks’ interest in supporting the music center, which hosted its first shows in 2002.
Balancing value & cost
Budgets have fallen yearly for the parkway, and the sequestration contributed to what Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation CEO Carolyn Ward called a “continual eroding of budgets.”
“I don’t want to talk about specific numbers, but from the beginning, [the music center] has never brought in enough money to break even,” Ward said.
She cited a generic example. The center, every Saturday, stages a themed show — old-time, bluegrass, harmonies, instrumental prowess and dancing have been among them — all particular to the Blue Ridge Mountains’ history and heritage. The center might pay $1,300 to the acts on the bill, Ward said.
“And that includes no staffing costs — [it is] just to pay the musicians,” she said. “And from ticket sale revenue, we bring in $400. And that doesn’t include any of our operational costs.”
Nor does that include the free, daily mountain music performances that the center stages.
“We don’t believe necessarily that things like this should pay for themselves, so to speak,” Ward said. “We believe that the value of some of those things we put on that stage — in terms of the historical value, the educational value, just the experience opportunity for people in the community — the price we would have to charge for a ticket to make it break even is a price that we don’t want to charge.
“We want to be able to make it accessible and available for folks in the community of these mountains, and these mountains, quite frankly, are not as economically lucrative as we’d like them to be.”
So far, the music center has sold 70 tickets to the pre-show event in its 100-capacity theater.
Funding Parkway gems
Since 1997, the nonprofit Blue Ridge Parkway Foundation has raised money to help the 469-mile parkway beyond what the federal government provides.
The music center is only one of the items on its checklist this year. Among the others is the fishing and viewing platform on the trail around Abbott Lake, at Peaks of Otter. For waterwheel repair at Mabry Mill, the foundation was seeking grant money or donations via the public or private sectors.
Despite many needs and limited money — the foundation will distribute more than $740,000 to fund several projects and programs in both Virginia and North Carolina, according to a March report in The Roanoke Times — Ward said that the music center is unique on the parkway.
“We don’t ever want to necessarily get to that place where the cost of the ticket pays for the show itself so much as we want to get to a model where by using all these various things [donations, grants and such things as the Cash pre-show] collectively, we can pay for and make up the difference of some of those shows where 200 people get a life-changing experience, and at another show, there’s 3,000 people out in the audience,” she said. “And it’s the big picture of the season that we really need to get in the balance.”
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