Levitt AMP organizers close out concert series on a high note

Levitt AMP organizers close out concert series on a high note

City native Emily Luther warms up during a soundcheck before the Levitt AMP concert series at River Island Art Park last Friday. Organizers said the event, in its first run this summer, was a success, though they hope to increase attendance by non-city residents if they secure a grant to continue the series next year. (Breeze photos by Lauren Clem)

WOONSOCKET – With a final foot-stomping act taking the stage last Friday, Aug. 31, Woonsocket’s first-ever Levitt AMP summer concert series drew to an end, closing out a summer of national music acts and rejuvenated interest in the city’s downtown, according to organizers.

Meghan Rego, director of resource development and communications at NeighborWorks Blackstone River Valley, the series’ sponsoring organization, said she was pleased with the reaction from city residents throughout the summer, which has been overwhelmingly positive.

“It has been a really incredible summer,” she said. “For people that live here, it’s something that’s free and awesome that I can bring my friends to.”

In particular, the series has delivered on the goal to draw more interest to local businesses. In addition to a different city restaurant serving out of the River Island Art Park snack bar each week and members of NeighborWorks’ Millrace Kitchen “restaurant incubator” serving at an adjacent location, organizers encouraged concert attendees to visit downtown restaurants for pre-concert fare. According to Rego, 50 percent of concert-goers said they visited a Main Street business before or after the event, as indicated by surveys conducted during the series.

“It has been amazing to see the community come out each week,” she said.

The Levitt AMP summer concert series came about through a $25,000 matching grant from the Mortimer and Mimi Levitt Foundation after the city placed seventh of 25 finalists during a voting process last fall. Rego is hoping to secure the grant again for next summer, a feat that will once again require city residents to cast their vote online when the contest opens Nov. 1. The foundation will then choose 15 grant recipients, taking into account the series’ performance and plans for improvement for repeat applicants.

One of those areas for growth, said Rego, is attendance. While the concerts drew between 200 and 500 visitors each week, not a bad turnout for a first-time series, organizers had hoped for closer to 500 to 800 and noticed most attendees were city residents age 45 and older. With many of the details related to planning and staging already in place, she said next year’s efforts will focus more on marketing the series to younger residents of the surrounding region.

“Because this was really new to us, we spent a lot of time up to the start of the series figuring out logistics,” she explained.

On Aug. 24, Woonsocket received a visit from Levitt Foundation Executive Director Sharon Yazowski, who told The Breeze it’s not unusual for a series to receive a repeat grant from the organization. Yazowski said she was glad to see one of the grant’s newest recipients embracing the community involvement perspective the foundation was created to spur.

“One of the major components of a Levitt AMP series is the community investment and involvement, and one of the things that I’ve seen throughout the day is this has been an all-hands-on-deck project,” she said.

That effort was on full display last Friday as volunteers spread out over River Island Art Park, getting the space ready for another night of music, dancing and local eats. While NeighborWorks was the sponsoring organization, the series came to fruition through the combined efforts of city officials, corporate sponsors and dozens of volunteers and workers, including several who served with NeighborWorks through an Americorps placement.

Yazowski said the combined community effort, along with a focus on the arts, are key pieces of the organization’s mission to spur redevelopment in communities of 10,000 to 60,000 residents. Events like music series, she said, offer municipalities a unique opportunity to remake their image around arts programming in an experience-based economy.

“We look at cities who are on the brink of reimagining their identity, where there’s real potential to go from what might have been one era to a new identity,” she said.

Local business owners setting up for Friday’s concert echoed Rego’s comments, saying attendance has fluctuated by week but conversation around the events has been positive. Dorian Rave, owner of Ravenous Brewery, said he thinks the events could have been marketed more, but he looks forward to selling his beer at the series again next summer.

“If they bring it back, I’ll definitely be back,” he said.

Volunteer Nicole Brien, joined by Mike Martin, left, prepare a merchandise table before the start of the event.