3 Rivers Music Festival returns, if only in name

otaylor@thestate.comJuly 5, 2013 

  • If you go 3 Rivers Music Festival Gospel Extravaganza

    When: 1 p.m. Saturday

    Where: St. Andrews Park, 920 Beatty Road

    Tickets: Free, but V.I.P. tickets, which include a private entrance, exclusive viewing area, food and air conditioned restrooms, cost $75

3 Rivers Music Festival is back again, but it’s not the same as before.

The original 3 Rivers, held in the spring, was a three-day festival that began in 2000 and ended in 2006. Headliners included OutKast, Ludacris, Widespread Panic, Ray Charles, Nelly, Aretha Franklin, Styx and George Clinton, but the festival suffered from sluggish attendance and often inhospitable weather.

The reincarnation will be held over two consecutive weekends in two different locations. And it’s free.

The Gospel Extravaganza, presented by Glory Communications, owner of WFMV-FM 95.3, will be headlined by J. Moss, a powerful contemporary gospel voice. Other performers at St. Andrews Park on Saturday will include Kathy Taylor, Tiffany J and Anya Dixon.

Lee Greenwood, Musiq Soulchild and The S.O.S. Band headline next Saturday’s half of festival in the Vista. Preach Jacobs, Cheri Marree, The Terence Young Experience, Janie Metts, John Wesley Satterfield, Tokyo Joe, The Mobros, and Patrick Davis will also perform.

“We’re trying to give it a whole new vibe,” Nnena Nchege, the festival’s board chairwoman said. “We’re starting small and we want to grow into a vibrant cultural experience for Columbia.”

Even though they are operating on vastly different scales, comparisons to the new and old 3 Rivers Music Festival will inevitably be made. When discussing the two, here are five points to consider.

Joyful noise

New 3 Rivers: Gospel music has its own day. The genre has proven successful attracting large crowds. Glory Communications hosts FamilyFest, the annual Memorial Day event in Finlay Park that draws tens of thousands.

Old 3 Rivers: One of the festival-planning aspects where organizers excelled was programming gospel, Christian and inspirational music. Keith “Wonderboy” Johnson, Doc McKenzie and the Hi-Lites, The Gospel Four, Chris Rice, Marvin Sapp and The Sensational Nightingales performed during the festival’s run.

Down by the river

New: The name doesn’t quite fit. From St. Andrews Park to stages in the Vista, a river doesn’t run through the festival.

Old: For its first six years, the festival’s site was, mostly, an asphalt playground. Finlay Park offered some green space, but the uphill climb back to the main stretch of the festival could be brutal — especially if it was hot. In its final year, the festival banked that its new site, along the banks of the Congaree River and the Gervais Street Bridge, would provide a scenic and picturesque backdrop, and become a selling point. It was beautiful, but people didn’t buy it.

At the gate

New: Free is something people can and will groove to. FamilyFest, Jam Room Music Festival and Famously Hot New Year have proven it’s a festival business model that works. Funding for 3 Rivers is coming from several sources, including corporate sponsorships, hospitality grants from the city and county, individual sponsorships and refreshment sales.

Old: In its last year, it cost just $35 for a three-day pass. But since Columbia is a walk-up city, many paid $25 for the one-day ticket. For the amount of acts, that’s significantly cheaper than a show at a major building like the Colonial Life Arena or even many shows at Township Auditorium. The inaugural Famously Hot Music Festival suffered from a steep, $35-per-day ticket. Once tickets are more than, say, the $12 Rosewood Crawfish Festival charges, people seem to only want to pay that price in droves for St. Pat’s in Five Points. But there’s no need to be green with envy of that festival, because it really isn’t about the music.

Dancing in the streets

New: Organizers estimate between 2,500-3,500 will attend at St. Andrews Park and 5-7,500 in the Vista.

Old: Ticket sales for the 2006 festival came in at an all-time low, prompting organizers to call it quits. Ticket sales were supposed to make up about half the festival’s revenue, about $550,000. But tickets totaled $362,000, leaving a nearly $200,000 deficit the city of Columbia had to pay, bringing its investment in the 2006 festival to more than $500,000. An estimated 35,000 people came to the festival, about 10,000 fewer than the previous year.

Nodding to the beat

New: The success of the (free) Love Peace & Hip Hop Festival headlined by Kool Moe Dee in April, the inclusion of hip-hop (Ben G and FatRat Da Czar) at the Rosewood Crawfish Festival in May and the performances by Ghostface Killah and Phife Dawg at Cola-Con in October, it’s apparent that urban music is a draw locally. Musiq Soulchild and The S.O.S. Band should satisfy fans.

Old: 3 Rivers booked OutKast when the “The Whole World” was singing along. For a few years, the festival was the only place to hear marquee rappers and R&B singers big enough to fill a large venue in the city. The Colonial Life Arena has caught the beat, booking Usher, Drake, Rick Ross and Mary J. Blige in recent years. But urban music fans, unlike country music supporters, can be flakey. They certainly can’t be counted on to sustain a festival, at least not here.

Reach Taylor at (803) 771-8362.

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