Rock the Park, a Mill Race Park summer concert tradition that began in 2008, has played its last song.

Columbus Area Arts Council resources can be better used for more varied family entertainment rather than risky, expense-laden, major-artist performances — ones that sometimes must compete with concerts scheduled by national promoters working in surrounding metro areas, said Kathryn Armstrong, the nonprofit agency’s executive director.

After the Rock the Park concert planned for last August featuring KC and the Sunshine Band was rained out, a first for the concert series, organizers decided they needed to talk about its future — including whether there would be one.

Financial responsibilities were weighing heavily on the arts organization. The arts council faced covering $90,000 in concert costs despite the weather-driven cancellation, although local donors stepped up to replace about $30,000 of it.

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Advance ticket sales for KC and the Sunshine Band were weak, in part because of threatening weather forecasts, the arts council reported. That was in contrast to earlier Rock the Park concerts which had been successful financially, drawing 4,000 to 7,000 people since 2012.

Arts council board members took time at a recent retreat to examine its mission, its projects and its programs, and decided against using the arts council’s limited staff and volunteer resources to continue Rock the Park.

“We’re closing this chapter,” Armstrong said. “Part of the reason is that we want to make sure the arts council can be fiscally responsible.”

Rock the Park had used proceeds from successful concerts to place money in a fund as a reserve to protection against inclement weather for the outdoors concert, said Republic Publisher Chuck Wells, one of the concert series founders.

“But with one big rainstorm, it all went away,” Wells said.

He is supportive of the arts council’s decision.

“To put on an event of that magnitude would take a full production company countless man hours,” said Wells, who had coordinated a range of events at Mill Race in the 1990s when he worked for the Columbus Parks and Recreation Department.

“So, it’s absolutely appropriate for them and intelligent of them to rethink what they’re doing,” he said.

In fact, Wells said that without a covered stage, proper access areas near the stage — where an equipment semi was stuck in the mud for hours after the heavy August rainout — and other amphitheater changes improvements, concerts are too iffy there for now.

Coming Thursday

Today’s story on the Columbus Area Arts Council is the first of a two-day series. Coming Thursday: Learn plans for new Arts Council programming, from children’s lunchtime arts events to hands-on workshops with local artists. Also on tap is an arts residency program that will kick off in the fall with members of Dance Kaleidoscope of Indianapolis.


Rock the Park, year by year

2008: BoDeans and The Why Store, attendance 1,200.

2009: The Elms and Blues Traveler, attendance 3,000.

2010: Gin Blossoms and The Rembrandts, attendance 900.

2011: .38 Special, attendance, 3,400.

2012: Foreigner, attendance 7,025.

2013: REO Speedwagon, attendance 7,000.

2014: No concert.

2015: Charlie Daniels Band, attendance 4,000.

2016: KC and the Sunshine Band, canceled.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at or 812-379-5672.