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ELIZABETHTOWN — REO Speedwagon brought in more than 5,000 fans to hear hits like “Keep on Loving You” and “I Can’t Fight This Feeling” Saturday night at Freeman Lake Park. Kenny Lewis, chairman of the Elizabethtown Summer Concert Committee, said the turnout "exceeded what we hoped for.”
Young and old alike stood side-by-side as REO Speedwagon cruised their way to the biggest crowd since the first concert in 1993.
Lewis said the city lucked out by booking REO Speedwagon because the band just happened to be playing in Illinois on July 4 and had the Saturday date open.
The concert series fell on hard times in the late ’90s after attendance dropped off to a point where the city discontinued it, but Lewis said he was determined to bring it back. He approached Mayor David Willmoth and told him about his plans last year. The suggestion elicited a laugh, Lewis said, but Willmoth told Lewis to give it a try. Two weeks later, Lewis reported back to the mayor that Three Dog Night would be making a stop in Elizabethtown.
One of the reasons the concerts might have started waning in popularity was lack of variety, Lewis said. The concerts in the ’90s always featured country artists. So, when putting together ideas to revamp the project, organizers decided to pursue the classic rock genre. Lewis felt the number of baby boomers in the area could make the shows a success.
“Obviously we struck a nerve,” he said.
This year’s show grew in both attendance and price as more than 5,000 tickets were sold in comparison to last year’s 3,400. Lewis said the concert’s bill also grew from about $65,000 last year to more than $100,000 this year. The increased price is indicative of the size of REO Speedwagon’s act, Lewis said.
After Saturday’s event, Lewis received several calls with suggestions for next year’s show, with requests ranging from Willie Nelson to KC and the Sunshine Band. The committee also has discussed bringing a big country show to Elizabethtown.
Lewis said he does not know what act they will pursue yet because tour schedules will not be released until November; however, he wants the show to grow.
Once the committee receives a list of bands and prices, they set a budget and chose what type of music to pursue. They then make sure the date they want is logical to the band’s touring schedule. Lewis said the committee couldn’t expect a band playing on the West Coast to come to Kentucky for one show.
Even after they find an artist that fits their criteria, some will not play a venue the size of Freeman Lake Park, Lewis said, because they are accustomed to playing arenas.
Contract negotiations are labor intensive — REO Speedwagon’s contract was 39 pages long, including instructions detailing what and when the band wanted to eat.
“There’s a tremendous amount of work that goes into putting one of these things on,” he said.
Despite the work, Lewis believes city residents want this type of entertainment and officials should capitalize on it. He said he would like to branch out and do two shows a year, with one in the summer and another in the fall.
“Who knows, the Rolling Stones might be here someday,” he said, adding that “you gotta think big.”
A country concert featuring Mark Wills and Buddy Jewell is set for July 18 at Freeman Lake and the annual Pops in the Park is slated for July 25. Neither of those events are planned by the city.
The REO concert was sponsored by the city of Elizabethtown, T.J. Rhoades State Farm Insurance, John O’s Market, the Swope Family of Dealerships, McDonald’s, Mark Harris Construction, WAKY-FM and the Elizabethtown Tourism and Convention Bureau.
Marty Finley can be reached at (270) 505-1762.