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New year means new concert, event opportunities for city venues

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- With 2012 underway, Charleston's calendar of entertainment events is just beginning to fill up.

Over the next several weeks, more shows are likely to be added to both the Clay Center and the Charleston Civic Center as concert and theater tours finalize their spring and summer schedules. 

Returning to the Civic Center are such popular acts as Disney on Ice, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, Casting Crowns and the Trans Siberian Orchestra.

John Robertson, the center's general manager, said things are as busy as they ever are and are picking up. "It's like someone turned on a spigot and it's gushing," he said and laughed.

This week, there's the Christian music tour Winter Jam at the Civic Center and comedian Rodney Carrington at the Municipal Auditorium. Next week, country superstars Rascal Flatts are at the Civic Center, and Blake Shelton comes next month. Plus the Civic Center has a full slate of events like the West Virginia International Auto Show, the West Virginia Hunting and Fishing Show, the Monster Jam monster truck show and more.

Robertson said the Civic Center staff gets events every which way it can. Promoters call them, but they also reach out to tour managers. 

"We have a regular and proactive phone call system to agents to kind of remind them that we're here," he said. "We ask them if they have anything on tour, and if Charleston, West Virginia could fit into that."

Typically, he said, Charleston isn't going to be a stop that an entire tour would revolve around, but it might be a secondary market or a building block to a major market.

The Civic Center gets a lot of country acts, Robertson acknowledged, and it will be getting even more.

He said, "Right now, if you follow the trades, there's a glut of country. There's very little rock out there. I'd say for the foreseeable future that's what you're going to see."

He said the Civic Center would like to see more variety, but with the number of tour dates available, country concerts are the most likely what will come to Charleston in the next six to eight months.

However, the way artists tour could be changing. Robertson believes it's possible that Charleston and the Civic Center could see more shows as performers take on more tour dates in venues outside of major cities. 

Meanwhile, the Clay Center's spring schedule includes class rockers The Moody Blues, banjoist Bela Fleck and his Flecktones and "Jessie's Girl" singer Rick Springfield. Lakin Cook, the center's Director of Performing Arts, said there is more to come.

"We're probably looking at two or three add-on shows to our schedule before June," she said.

And summer could also be busy.

Cook said bringing variety to the Clay Center is a balancing act between the venue's cultural and educational mission and the popular tastes of ticket buyers. Classic rock, comedians and Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. do very well at the Clay Center, but other types of entertainment sometimes struggle.

Cook said the Clay Center staff strives for variety, but it's not always easy.

"There's this image we have to get around," she said. "We're a performing arts center, and some of the artists think that limits what we can present."

For example, Cook said, getting management on the phone for bands like The Moody Blues or Steely Dan isn't nearly as much trouble as making contact with indie artists like Amos Lee or Citizen Cope, performers with critical acclaim outside of the usual mainstream music channels.

The problem, she said, might not be the size of the performance hall, but the seats. "They might be [used to] playing a lot of places where everyone is on their feet," she said.

But the Clay Center has made some headway.

"I think the Trucks and Tedeschi show is a breakthrough for us," Cook said. "That's been on our list for a very long time. He's a fantastic guitarist, and she has an amazing voice. The whole band is just spectacular.

"That show is really going to kick butt, so to speak."

Trucks and Tedeschi are also regulars on the summer festival circuit, which Cook said the Clay Center has made some inroads with as far as bookings.

"I think we're going to get some of the routing through summer festivals like we did for Grace Potter and the Nocturnals last year."

Potter was booked at the Clay Center as part of the "Bonnaroo Buzz" tour, which was a series of dates leading up to the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival in Tennessee. Cook believed that something along those lines could happen again.

In the meantime, Cook will head to the Arts Presenters conference in New York later this week to meet with industry professionals and check out a variety of performance showcases for theater, dance and jazz.

"We're thinking about booking another dance troupe," she said. "But I really need to see that in person, I think."

Past the spring, Cook said the Clay Center hopes to add several shows, but she's thinking farther than just June, July and August. It's the beginning of the year, but Cook said the Clay Center is well into putting together its fall schedule.

"I've already got three acts signed," Cook said.

Reach Bill Lynch at lynch@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5195.


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