News Column

Rockin' on the River considers leaving the Falls after city says it wants to explore other music promoters

July 31, 2014

By Paula Schleis, The Akron Beacon Journal



July 31--CUYAHOGA FALLS -- Rockin' on the River -- the iconic concert series the city has hosted since 1986 -- is looking for a new home.

"We're up for adoption," said promoter Bob Earley, who took ownership of the concert program and its name 11 years ago. Previously, it was operated by the Cuyahoga Falls Jaycees.

Mayor Don Walters met with Earley this week to announce he has formed a committee of residents to explore other options for Riverfront Square, the venue where the free concerts have played on summer Friday nights for years. That includes accepting proposals from other music providers.

"He told us in the eyes of the committee and most people, we were still the frontrunner to be considered for next year and we should wait, but we can't wait. You have to get this thing going now for next year," Earley said.

Earley said a dozen or more communities have contacted him over the years, looking to lure the series away, "but we stayed loyal to Cuyahoga Falls."

He said he's confident that Rockin' won't remain homeless for long.

"At first we were shocked," Earley said after the meeting with Walters, but now "we see it as a great opportunity to explore other options and venues."

Walters, who became mayor in January, said the new committee is made up of Ward 4 Councilman Bob Weinhardt and six residents with "unbiased and open minds" and no attachment to Front Street activities.

They have two goals: review the city's festival handbook and consider alternative Friday night attractions.

Friday night has "been exclusively Earley's," Walters said. "It's only fair that we look at other vendors and do what we think is best for the citizens."

Walters said he has nothing against Rockin' on the River -- he met his wife at a concert in 2009 -- but without opening the door for new proposals, "we don't know what we're missing out there. Maybe there is a nonprofit who wants to run it and give 100 percent to charity."

While Walters believes it's possible that in the end Rockin' on the River will remain in the Falls, he said he understands Earley's need to "control his own destiny" by exploring other options.

In a letter delivered to Walters on Wednesday, Earley stressed the asset the concert series has been to the city.

That includes $350,000 raised for local charities; many special events, such as a memorial fundraiser to former Falls Officer Dan Crabtree, who died while serving in Iraq; and $200,000 paid in rent to the city and more than $200,000 paid to the Police Department for security during Earley's 11-year tenure.

"When we started in 2004, we were given two goals: make Cuyahoga Falls proud and pay our bills," Earley said. "Our track record certainly shows that we have done both."

Earley said it is a business filled with great fun but great risk.

"To do Rockin' on the River events the way we did, you have to write checks for $25,000 every Friday morning, and then pray it doesn't rain. Because if it rains, you lose that $25,000. That's the gamble we take every single Friday. The city doesn't pay us a cent," he said.

That figures includes the cost of the band, security, renting the site from the city, sound equipment and advertising, Earley said. He said his income comes from beer sales and food vendors.

Earley would not comment on whether the concert series has fallen victim to a political change in the Falls.

He was hired and supported by longtime former Republican Mayor Don Robart, who was defeated in November's election by Walters, a Democrat.

But Earley did say Walters asked if Earley would be willing to change the name of his concert series because "he said he wanted to have something that didn't have ties to the previous mayor."

Earley, who owns the well-known concert series name, said his response was, "Not a chance."

Walters acknowledged that some people have tried to make it a political issue. He said he has seen residents on social media suggesting that because Robart is out, Earley should be out.

But Walters said his only interest is doing due diligence as mayor.

"If you ask a thousand people what do they want down there, you'll get a thousand opinions. Country. Big band. Chinese acrobats," Walters said. "I will feel I'm doing my job properly to say we explored all that and could not get Chinese acrobats to come."

Earley said he feels "no animosity whatsoever" against the mayor.

"It hurt us a lot, but I must tell you that the mayor, from Day One, said that he would leave us alone this year and make decisions for 2015, and he has kept his word," Earley said.

There are five concerts left in the series this year, and Earley said he wants them to be upbeat.

"There is no hostility. What we are hoping for over the next four to five weeks is that everyone comes down and share their memories. We are going to have great giveaways and make it memorable," he said.

For the rest of this year's Rockin' schedule, visit http://rockinontheriver.com.

Paula Schleis can be reached at 330-996-3741 or pschleis@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/paulaschleis and Facebook at http://facebook.com/pschleis.

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(c)2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)

Visit the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio) at www.ohio.com

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Source: Akron Beacon Journal (OH)


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