By Miriam Landru
Charlotte pulls in the national tours of A-list superstars. Asheville has their indie folk scene. Up the road in Durham, there’s DPAC.
We’ve got the Crown Complex and the various offerings there throughout the year. A special organization, the oldest arts focused non-profit in Cumberland County to be exact, Community Concerts, calls this grand venue home.
Community Concerts is a popular non-profit in the city, known to bring brand-name entertainment, but it’s not an easy endeavor and the organization’s history has been chock-full of challenges.
In its 80th year, Community Concerts is gearing up for one of their most colossal years to date. Huge acts will be gracing the stage of the Crown. “We’ve got the number one best-selling duo of all time, Hall & Oates. The lead singer of Chicago for over 20 years, I am talking about Peter Cetera. The number one R&B group of all time, Boyz II Men and we finish it off with a household name, a comedy legend, Jay Leno,” said Michael Fleishman, 22-year board member and current Attractions Director for Community Concerts. Fleishman maintained their biggest challenge is finding acts who will “excite” the crowd. Truth be told, this is a season that will go down in Fayetteville history.
The original Community Concerts series was begun by local civic leader, Fannie Stein, in 1935 at the pinnacle of the Great Depression. Then, it went by a different name, the Civic Music Association.
In the mid-1960s, the program became a part of the Community Concerts program under Columbia Artists Management. Community Concerts was organized in 1927 by the founder of Columbia Artists, Arthur Judson. Community Concerts were present across the country in different, you guessed it, communities. Throughout the years, they focused on bringing classical music to their respective audiences. But 22 years ago, in Cumberland County, Fleishman spearheaded a change in the programming. “I got on the board and we became more interested in putting on popular concerts.” Fleishman continued, “The lady from Columbia Artists said it could not be done and that contemporizing would not be successful.”
Still, Fleishman was up for the challenge. Using his connections from his prior gig in advertising in the Big Apple, he was able to pull some strings at William Morris Agency. “I made a phone call and we booked The Lettermen.” (If you’re a millennial like me, think of an early 1960s version of the Backstreet Boys.)
After that show, Community Concerts grew and moved to the Crown Complex. Jimmy Grafstrom, General Manager of the Crown stated, “We look forward to a continued relationship that enhances quality of life in Cumberland County and enables us to provide an enriched experience in the arts at the Crown Complex.” Katie Mikos, Marketing Director of the Crown continued, “We are always striving to provide a wide range of quality entertainment at the Crown Complex that appeals to the diverse audience that makes up Cumberland County and the surrounding region. Community Concerts, being the oldest non-profit arts organization in the area, is an extremely important partnership for us.”
Because of their willingness to adapt and get with the times, our Community Concerts is one of the last in the United States. Because they were able to spin off and become independent, they avoided the disbandment of Columbia Artists in 1999.
Still, Fleishman and his team have a special pride in the quality of the shows they produce. “None of them have evolved like us. We have become a true performing arts organization. We have grown.” Community Concerts provides many music-centered scholarships to our area youth and also inducts members into the Fayetteville Music Hall of Fame.
Fleishman also noted that DPAC and Community Concerts have a cooperative relationship which has benefited both by creating instant routing for shows. "We work together.… I let them have Patti Labelle. They let us have the Dancing Pros tour,” he said. The Attractions Director also wants the people to know that finding the right acts, most of the time, usually takes more than just a phone call. “Getting Hall & Oates, Jay Leno, it’s not like going to the celebrity or entertainer grocery store. It takes months and months to lock down. They want routed dates. They’re not going to come here then go to California and back to Atlanta. It’s a combination of what they want and what they cost. That’s who we get,” he said.
Although the people behind Community Concerts put in many “man hours” finding and agreeing on the acts, going over contracts and so on, they still remember to have fun and just enjoy the music. Denise Strother of ERA Strother, who is also an executive producer of the shows, uses the performances as a moral booster for her employees. “It’s a great opportunity to work with Community Concerts. It gives value to my team.” Strother continued, “I see everyone when I attend the shows. It really brings everyone together. I have loved all the shows, but I want them to bring Dolly Parton!”
Made up of 20 members, the Community Concerts board is made up of veterans, like Fleishman, Bill Kirby, Jerry Beaver and this year, some fresh faces like Caroline Gregory, a Cumberland County public defender and Rachel Richardson who works in fundraising at the Cape Fear Valley Health Foundation. Gregory, an avid music lover and vinyl record collector, is ecstatic to be active behind the scenes for this worthy organization. “I grew up in love with music and my father took me to many concerts when I was younger. I really appreciate that about my upbringing.” She continued, “I moved back here from the Triangle about a year ago and one thing I really miss about that area is the amount of shows that were always going on. But, I believe there’s a misconception that we have to go to Raleigh to see really amazing concerts. What I love about our line-up this year is that all we have to do is drive to the Crown to see really amazing concerts.” Bill Kirby knows the importance of the line-up this year: “This year, Hall & Oates and Jay Leno are major concerts for this community and the market. It has taken Michael Fleishman three years to book Hall & Oats and I have pushed him every year ... and he pulled it off.”
Fleishman maintained that Community Concerts is the little arts organization that could… and did. They beat the odds. They have survived because they struck out on their own and evolved with the times. When it comes to the next 80 years, Fleishman had these words: “What will keep this alive is the right people who really care about it... It needs care, love and energy to keep it alive.”
For more information, visit www.community-concerts.com.