National country-music recording artist Darryl Worley on Saturday christened the newly constructed Bryant Commons Amphitheater in Hinesville with a show that attracted more than 300 patrons.
Worley, along with Savannah musician Chuck Courtenay, performed songs for fans who watched from lawn chairs and picnic blankets on the grass in the open-air venue.
Worley has had 16 singles on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart, including No. 1 hits “I Miss My Friend,” “Awful, Beautiful Life” and “Have You Forgotten?”
He has ties to the area and a history of supporting the military, according to Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Executive Director Vicki Davis.
“Worley is very supportive of the military, and I think he has performed more than 10 United Service Organizations tours abroad for our troops,” Davis said.
The concert was part of the official grand opening of the new amphitheater at Bryant Commons, which was designed to accommodate concerts, festivals and family activities.
The amphitheater occupies about half of the Bryant Commons property, which consists of about 75 acres of usable space and can hold about 2,500 people, Davis said. The property boasts a pond, a 15-acre lake, the amphitheater and the homestead of the late Sen. Glenn Bryant’s family, which owns the land. The HDDA has a long-term lease to oversee Bryant Commons’ activities and events.
The venue’s first public event, Hinesville’s Classic Easter Egg Roll on March 2, gave community members an opportunity to see the grounds in full operation while flying kites, playing croquet and participating in other activities.
“Bryant Commons, as a whole, brings cultural entertainment and leisure activities to Hinesville,” Davis said. The venue will host six cultural events a year, including the Small World Festival on May 11.
The new venue also has the potential to attract tourism to Hinesville. Almost half of the Worley concert attendees traveled from outside of Hinesville to see the show and represented three different states, Davis said.
“We ended up having 47 percent tourists at the event,” she said. “That is a huge bonus for our community as a whole.”
Plenty of local residents also enjoyed Saturday’s concert.
“I think all of this is the just beginning,” Emergency Management Agency Director Mike Hodges said. “The amphitheater is a big morale booster and not only for the townspeople but for the military, which is a young crowd, and this kind of thing really appeals to a young crowd.”
Spc. Farida Joaquin, 20th Engineering Brigade, Fort Stewart, attended the concert with a fellow soldier. Both were impressed by the ambiance of the location.
“It’s a very comfortable place to sit back and listen to good music,” Joaquin said. “The place sounds great, and it gives us something fun to do right here in Hinesville.”
Plans to expand the amphitheater include adding concession stands and restrooms when funding is available, Davis said. The amphitheater itself was paid for mostly with a $500,000 state-funded grant, she said.
The HDDA also has a design for Bryant Commons’ entrance that would help with traffic flow, Davis noted. Parking and transportation to larger events are available off the property, but smaller events, like the May 11 Small World Festival, will have on-site parking.
“With the Worley concert, we used a transit system that seemed to work well,” Davis said. Attendees parked off-site and walked to the concert or paid $2 to ride the shuttle.
The amphitheater also gives musicians an opportunity to perform in Hinesville and support the military.
“The amphitheater is a great addition to the Hinesville community,” Hodges said. “People don’t always have the opportunity to come out, sit on a blanket and listen to good music … It gives us something you just can’t get anywhere else around here.”
Although the amphitheater’s inaugural event mostly went off without a hitch, one of three cash boxes containing an undisclosed amount of money disappeared from the gate-admissions area toward the end of the event, according to Davis. The Hinesville Police Department is investigating the incident.
“It was a minor incident. I will say that the majority of the ticket sales were done as pre-sales and credit-card purchases, so (it was) only on-site cash purchase that took place and were put into just one of the cash boxes,” Davis said. “Although it’s unfortunate, and we hate to have that as part of this event, it certainly could have been much worse.”
The city of Hinesville’s 2013 fiscal-year budget had an approved expenditure of $46,602 for the concert. However, Davis said event coordinators were able to bring the expense down quite a bit. They also received several grants and sponsorships.
Worley’s performance fee was $15,000, according to the HDDA executive director.
The total cost for the concert is not known because coordinators still are tabulating revenue and expenses.
Davis cleared up some rumors that circulated online regarding deeply discounted and free tickets.
“We did not sell any discounted tickets, nor were any city employees given free tickets. The members of the Hinesville Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors were given one free ticket each, but they did have to pay for their spouses,” she said.
Davis acknowledged attendance was smaller than anticipated, but expressed gratitude for the event’s supporters, especially the wounded warriors who were in attendance thanks to tickets provided by the Independent Telecommunications Pioneer Association.
“We certainly did want to have a considerably larger crowd, but we’re grateful and happy for those who did come out. Their response was overwhelming,” she said. “At one point, all of our soldiers were lined up right in front of the stage with tears in their eyes when Darryl Worley had a tribute. That, in itself, makes it all worthwhile.”