Aug. 3 is the day the music died in Cuyahoga Falls.
That’s the day volunteer concert promoters known as IROK informed city officials “they must regretfully cancel the remainder of the 2016 Friday night Falls River Square concert series, effective immediately,” according to a press release from the city.
IROK blamed “dwindling attendance and lower sales” at the weekly summer concerts on the pedestrian mall for the abrupt cancellation of the last five free concerts. Organizers “sincerely apologized for the short notice,” the release said, adding the Riverfront Concert Series has raised nearly $70,000 for local charities that serve the community in its two years of existence.
Messages left for IROK chairman Mike Thomas seeking comment following the announcement were not answered at press time.
Prior to IROK, Bob Earley was the Friday night concert promoter for 11 years. At that time, the event was known as Rockin’ on the River, a staple in Cuyahoga Falls since it was started 30 years ago by the Falls Jaycees. Two years ago, the city announced it wanted to explore its options on Friday nights and possibly go in another direction.
The city formed a committee and sought proposals from would-be concert promoters. Earley was invited to submit a proposal, but he declined, later announcing he and Rockin’ on the River was moving to Lorain.
Mayor Don Walters told the paper the decision to halt the concerts in mid-season was not made by the city.
“The city did not cancel [the concert series],” Walters said. “It’s not our event.” IROK, a non-profit organization, and the only promoter to submit a proposal two years ago, made that decision, according to the mayor.
“[IROK] explained that while they continued to meet their monetary obligations to charities, vendors and the city, their costs to produce a concert each week were greater than funds generated,” the city’s press release said. “They further explained that they had explored countless solutions but inevitably determined that the risk of further monetary losses was too great.”
While admission to the concerts was free, food and drink cost money. A portion of beer sales went toward charity. Food and soft drinks were sold by vendors. Each vendor, according to Councilman Jeff Iula, paid an up-front fee at the start of the summer to reserve a place to park on Falls River Square during the concerts.
“They couldn’t just show up,” Iula said.
Vic Harris, lead singer for Southern Rock Superstars, said, “These things happen in the music business and the Southern Rock Superstars will always be interested in returning to the Cuyahoga Falls Riverfront some day.” Southern Rock Superstars would have been headliner on Aug. 4. “As of now we are scheduled to perform on Sept. 17 at the Oktoberfest. We hope music fans come see us then.
Harris said Mayor Walters and members of the IROK committee have been “very apologetic and we wish them luck in future endeavors.”
IROK reportedly kept the event alive as long as they could hoping financial conditions would improve. “When this did not occur, they made a fiscally responsible decision to not incur further financial liability,” the release said.
Walters said IROK started the season with a lump sum of sponsorship money which pays all weekly obligations throughout the season even if an event would lose money. “I was told they still have enough money to pay all outstanding debt,” the mayor said.
IROK paid the city each week its fee to rent the square, the mayor said. “We are not owed any money,” he said.
Walters said the beer sales may have been down because the event has become more “family-friendly” since IROK took it over. Also an earlier closing time to promote support of local bars and restaurant may have hurt, he said.
The mayor blamed dropping attendance on hot weather and added competition from more Friday venues including “many extremely successful nearby taverns and eateries.”
“I am thankful to IROK and their volunteers for providing family friendly entertainment to our community,” stated Walters. “We will take this opportunity to explore new and exciting events to bring entertainment to our community while benefitting our local charities that do so much good.”