Loudon kicks off concert series in new, outdoor theater

Build it and they will come.

That was one philosophy behind the creation of the recently “opened” Loudon Tate & Lyle Performing Arts Center, located in Loudon Municipal Park. It’s an impressive facility featuring a covered stage, a view of rolling hills and most notably offers up another outdoor live entertainment venue. Mark Harrell, city of Loudon director of parks and recreation, hopes its location and proximity will attract Knox County residents.

“There’s nothing like it in East Tennessee,” Harrell said. “We can comfortably accommodate twelve thousand people in the park, that’s with an area four feet by six feet so you have room to stretch out a lawn chair, that’s not like standing room only. Seven to eight thousand of those people will be within three hundred fifty feet of the stage. … Everybody has a good seat.”

The city purchased the land for the park in 1997. The performing arts center was part of the master plan for the land, an expansion that depended on state grants. The city approached local manufacturer Tate & Lyle for matching funds and when state money dwindled went back to the company for more help with funding. Tate & Lyle agreed and construction on the theater began last March.

“We’re slowly building that area up to be our recreation area for the city,” Harrell said.

“It’s gonna increase our revenue … it’s a win-win situation for everyone in the community,” said Ryan Schwenzer, Loudon parks and recreation program coordinator.

As for programming, Schwenzer added, “A fun, family-oriented evening is what we’re looking for. Our hope is that they can run home, change clothes, grab their tickets and head out to the amphitheater and be able to get a good dinner like a hamburger or hot dog, let the kids play on the games, be able to catch the concert and be out of there by eleven o’clock.

“We’re hoping that this may be the stop in between Chattanooga and Knoxville in the years to come for a good family event,” Schwenzer added. “Eventually we want to have something going on there every week throughout the summer basically.”

Traffic control plans are also set in place, Harrell said.

“We’ll get you in the park in three minutes from the Interstate and we’ll get you back on the Interstate in three minutes,” he said.

The inaugural Loudon concert series kicks off Saturday, June 18. Tickets are $40 plus tax and a handling fee for all six shows averaging “a little over six dollars each, which is unheard of these days,” Schwenzer said. “We’re able to keep prices low because of help from the sponsors, the city’s help, the city has been very gracious in supporting us, the taxpayers, they’re all in that mix.”

To check out the amphitheater before the start of the series, head to the park this Memorial Day weekend.

Concerts Sunday, May 29, include performances from the Air National Guard Band of the Smoky Mountains, Outta the Blue and Mountain Home.

Outta the Blue is made up of the Holloway Family, out of Lenoir City — a family of musicians who play traditional bluegrass gospel music. Mountain Home bluegrass group features Kathy Huber on lead vocals and rhythm guitar. They play, Huber said, “the mountain music that is so beloved in this area.” Mountain Home also features Gary Johnston on bass, Ernie Holbert on mandolin and vocals, Gordon Jett on guitar and lead vocals and Farragut resident Mike Singletary offers up “some sweet fiddlin’ and vocals,” Huber said.

The Invaders, a group playing music of the 60s British Invasion, will rock and roll starting at 6 p.m., Memorial Day, Monday, May 30.

Kicking off the summer concert series is Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder. Skaggs, a professional musician for nearly 30 years and nine-time Grammy Award winner, has come back to his roots and first love — bluegrass. He brings that sound to Loudon Saturday, June 18.

July 4th festivities feature Malibu Storm, a contemporary country group, the Mikel Grubb Band, playing light rock and a fireworks display.

The legendary Charlie Daniels Band hits the stage Thursday, July 14. Daniels and his band have been recording for 35 years. Hits include “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” “In America,” “The South’s Gonna Do It” and “Long Haired Country Boy.” By 1981, The Charlie Daniels Band had twice been voted the Academy of Country Music’s Touring Band of the Year.

On stage Saturday, Aug. 13, is The Crabb Family, who picked up nine Dove Award nominations this year and were named one of the “25 most important artists shaping Christian music today.” This second generation of the Crabbs follows parents Gerald and Kathy Crabb who introduced the family into musical ministry nearly 10 years ago. Although they have Southern gospel roots, The Crabb Family’s latest recording, “Driven,” features a variety of styles and genres.

Coming Saturday, Aug. 20, is Swing Machine, a 17-piece band playing the music of the Big Band era.

“Many of our arrangements are by Glenn Miller, Woody Herman, Benny Goodman, Count Basie and Duke Ellington,” said band leader Larry Schaefer, adding the band also performs contemporary arrangements of popular songs from the 30s, 40s and 50s sung by “our two lovely vocalists.”

Salvador hits the stage Sunday, Aug. 28. Once a small worship band from a Hispanic church, Salvador’s latest album, “So Natural,” has received a lot of attention, including being named one of 2004’s Best Christian Albums. Their faith-based music is rich with Latin, R and B and jazz influences.

All concerts feature lawn seating. Bring a lawn chair or blanket. No alcohol, coolers, pets or recording devices will be permitted.

Tickets for the $40 concert series are available through Tickets Unlimited at 865-656-4444 or can be purchased at Loudon Parks and Recreation Department at 201 Alma Place in Loudon.

Memorial Day weekend tickets are $3 in advance and $5 the day of the concerts. They can be purchased at the Loudon Parks and Recreation office.