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'Redneck Woman' Gretchen Wilson, with Big & Rich, (left) and legends Foreigner perform at Celebrate Virginia Live.
BY BILL FREEHLING
The Celebrate Virginia Live concert series might move to a paved area outside the Fredericksburg Expo & Conference Center for the 2013 season.
In addition, an entity of Expo Center operator Ballantine Management Group will likely take over ownership of the concert series in partnership with David Peterson, whose Seven Hills Presents has been running Celebrate Virginia Live the past four summers.
Many details of the partnership and the 2013 concert venue remain to be worked out, and it's still possible that the series could return for a fifth season to a site off Gordon W. Shelton Boulevard in Celebrate Virginia South. But both Peterson and Ballantine Management President Tom Ballantine are confident the series will be held in the late spring and summer 2013, and that the musical acts will be of the same caliber as in the past four years.
The potential move to the Expo Center site at 2371 Carl D. Silver Parkway is due in part to uncertainty regarding the land off Shelton Boulevard. The owners of that land as well as much of the undeveloped portions of Celebrate Virginia South are significantly behind on their taxes, and the city of Fredericksburg has started the process of selling the land at auction.
It's unclear when that sale would be held, or whether it ever will be. But the possibility of a tax sale in the middle of the 2013 concert series creates uncertainty that makes event planning difficult and risky.
Ballantine said the Expo Center has many attributes regardless of how things shake out at the Gordon W. Shelton site. The concerts would be held in a large parking lot to the north of the facility that stretches into a wooded area. That site is big enough to hold 5,500 people, which is the capacity for Celebrate Virginia Live on Shelton Boulevard. The parking lot in front of the Expo Center would be large enough for much of the crowd to park, and overflow parking could be across Carl D. Silver Parkway.
The Expo Center site also gives concert promoters flexibility in the event of bad weather. Rain wouldn't turn the paved surface into a mud pit, and the show could be moved inside the 115,000-square-foot Expo Center if needed. Ballantine is considering investing in improved acoustics inside the facility. He is also studying plans to build a hotel that attaches to the south side of the facility or is built over the conference center.
Having the concert series could also help Ballantine Management recruit weekend conventions to the Expo Center, as the well-known musical acts that the series brings to the area would provide an entertainment option for convention attendees. The facility might also be able to use the concert venue to complement certain trade shows.
Ballantine said many outdoor concerts are held on paved surfaces. He is still weighing whether to invest in permanent structures for the concert venue. The name of the concert series could be changed based on the wishes of a naming-rights sponsor Ballantine hopes to attract.
Though all the details haven't been worked out, the current plan has Peterson booking the acts and handling other logistics for Ballantine's company. Through four years of running the series, Peterson has learned a good deal about what musical acts bring out the crowds locally. Country acts have been particularly popular.
Peterson said his company is working on opportunities in other markets, but he said he is proud of what Celebrate Virginia Live has become and excited about remaining part of it going forward.
Bill Freehling: 540/374-5405