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East County Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2020 4 months ago

Concert at Premier could be glimpse of future in Lakewood Ranch

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Side of Ranch Jay Heater
by: Jay Heater Managing Editor

Could something special rise out of the COVID-19 rubble?

Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch is hosting a live concert on Halloween night featuring Reverend Barry & The Funk along with Twinkle and Rock and Soul Radio.

Most of the attention will center on Lakewood Ranch hosting a live concert during the COVID-19 pandemic, but concert promoter Morgan Bettes is thinking more longterm.

Bettes, whose promotional company Independent Jones works with Schroeder-Manatee Ranch in booking and presenting special events, said her company has to work outside the Lakewood Ranch area to host big events with national level attractions because the venues here simply do not support bigger numbers of fans.

The wild card in all this is Premier.

Manatee County had designed a Premier Park Master Bubble Plan map in 2019 that included a band shell with an event lawn with a 19,000 seating capacity.

That might seem overly aggressive, but not so much if you understand open land, which the county owns on the site. In Columbus, Ind., where I lived before moving to Florida five years ago, they constructed a large bandshell and pointed it toward an open field, which would host 9,000 to 10,000 fans (bringing their own seating options) for concerts such as REO Speedwagon, Foreigner and Don Felder of Eagles fame.

Designing a complex that would seat even 10,000 fans would be a boon for Lakewood Ranch residents, whom I am sure would enjoy a few name attractions each year. When Thunder By The Bay held its annual Sarasota festival in Lakewood Ranch in 2017, Blue Oyster Cult drew a few thousand fans on a miserable, cold, rainy January day.

Although Bettes' parents live in Lakewood Ranch and she does so much business with SMR, such as booking Music on Main and entertainment for the Market at Lakewood Ranch, she was not familiar with any plans to build a band shell at Premier. She said she would immediately call the county to offer some input on what would make a nice stage.

"What we struggle with here is venues, and we are out of options," she said. "A permanent bandshell would be huge."

Wouldn't it be nice to see classic rockers such as Steely Dan, ZZ Top or the Doobie Brothers make a stop here? But the bandshell wouldn't be just for the national attractions. Symphonies, concert bands, local rockers and student musicians could be featured. 

Reverend Barry & The Funk and Twinkle are power bands in our region and will draw well. With social distancing in place and tickets being sold by the pod (rectangular areas that will host up to six patrons), Bettes said she would be thrilled with 500 fans on Oct. 31.

Barry Nicholson, the leading force behind Reverend Barry & The Funk, brought the idea of a concert to Bettes with the idea that people are starving for live entertainment. Bettes ran with the idea.

"I've been working on this concert for a while," Bettes said. "We have COVID guidelines, but Manatee County has been very helpful. We do need extra security (to enforce safety regulations) and people aren't going to be allowed to go to the front and dance."

Food and drink will be available at the event but no coolers or food will be allowed from outside the venue. Gates open at 5:30 p.m. and music begins at 7 p.m. Guests are strongly encouraged to wear their masks when not in their pod.

Consider down the road, though, when COVID-19 is in the rear view mirror. The Oct. 31 event could have us all thinking about better things to come.

"In my mind, this could be the first of many (concerts)," said Bettes, whose dream of becoming a promoter started five years ago when she started Independent Jones. "I feel people want to get out."

If you want to get out in the future, to a concert venue at Premier in Lakewood Ranch, the time to give your county representatives feedback is now.

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