It’s a Friday night in mid-July and you’re standing on Hay Street.
Suddenly you hear…Try to understand. Try try try to understand. I’m a Magic Man.
Is it 1975? No, it’s 2014. Is it a band playing for the Dogwood Festival? Keep in mind, it’s not April… it’s July. It’s summer in the All-America City and that’s prime time for the Dogwood Festival’s free concert series, Fayetteville After 5.
The popular affair started 15 years ago at the now defunct Fayetteville Museum of Art on their beautiful lawn and lake (it’s presently home to the lovely event venue, Vizcaya Villa). It was held on the third Thursday of every summer month. In 2008, the concert moved to the larger space of Festival Park.
Fayetteville After 5 is an exclusive R.A. Jeffrerys Distributing Company event that they give all proceeds to a non-profit group because they cannot sell alcohol to benefit themselves. In 2010, the Fayetteville Dogwood Festival took the event over and there are no signs of slowing their success down.
“We have definitely revamped the series,” said Dogwood Festival executive director Carrie King. “We have changed the genres of music and moved it from Thursday to Friday night.” Moving the date to Friday has resulted in the average crowd going from 2,000 attendees to a whopping 5,000 to 8,000. TGIF perhaps?
Though the large crowd may bring to mind the April Dogwood Festival event, everything is scaled back. The only vendors allowed are top-notch food vendors with typical concert fare and of course, R.A. Jeffries is slinging your favorite libations. “It is strictly an R.A. Jeffreys event. The only sponsors we have are our media partners,” King stressed.
When Fayetteville After 5 began, the focus was on season-appropriate Carolina Beach Music. In 2009, the quintessential 90s band Better than Ezra which spawned hits like “Desperately Wanting” and “At the Stars” headlined the series at the Museum of Art, but attendance was not as on point as expected. King recalled, “I went to the event and I was shocked there were not more people there!” She added, “Bringing in the Dogwood Festival has brought a more concrete fan base.”
In 2010 and 2011, primarily beach bands played the series. But last year, Kind decided to take the risk of having a major headliner. “Just one more time the committee agreed to try it,” said King. Country crooner James Otto, whose song “Just Got Started Lovin’ You” was the Billboard Number One Country Single of 2008, hit the Festival Park stage in May 2013 to great success. “It was huge. I mean it was HUGE!” exclaimed King
This year, the concerts kicked off on May 16 with Nashville recording artist Josh Thompson of “Cold Beer with your Name on It” fame. Local act The Erik Smallwood Duo, with its namesake on guitar and Neil Donnell Ray on percussion, opened for the Music City big timer. “Working with Carrie King and Joe Coker over at Festival Park is always so easy and fun. They make us feel special even though we are just a regional act.” On preceding Thompson, Smallwood said, “We had a chance to meet him and his band. They were pretty busy, so we didn’t get to chat too long, but they were very nice guys and super talented. It really made me feel at home when I pulled up backstage and heard “Simple Man” being played by his band for sound check.”
Deep South Entertainment artist Erin Nenni also rocked the May concert. She is an up and coming country artist, who according to Smallwood, has a “honky tonk, yet modern feel to her sound.”
While the May launch usually brings a big country headliner, the rest of the summer months are devoted to regional tribute acts and established local bands. King handpicks all the bands that play the stage and she is really excited about August’s On the Border, an Eagles tribute band. “The Dogwood committee attended a conference three years ago and they played there. I came back and said we have got to book them at some point. They played our stage last year and it was our biggest show of the summer.” She continued, “I used to not be into the whole tribute thing but when I heard them I thought, ‘Oh I can get into this!’”
Bringing “yacht rock” to the Festival Park stage is Triangle-based band, Captain & the Keels. Their trumpet player and vocalist Steve Baker shared, “People tell us all the time, that we play the soundtrack of their life. We really focus on playing music that is not typically covered by other bands.” He continued, “There is, surprisingly, a very high musicianship factor of the bands that created the Yacht rock movement. Or, put another way, the smooth or soft rock hits of the late 70s and early 80s.”
King looks forward to another fun-filled summer of crowd-pleasing acts brought to Fayetteville by the Dogwood Festival. The effervescent, yet firm executive director wants you to know a few things about their endeavors.
“We constantly gamble. We take risks and chances…things that the community may not be aware of. We have proven that the Dogwood Festival continues to deliver to the community what they’re looking for. We have established that country and rock are the top two genres here as far as return on investment.”
“We know that the After 5 concert series is the essence of what is Fayetteville.”