The Year Ahead: AMP’d Up For A New Year

The Year Ahead: AMP’d Up For A New Year

Venue made best of 2020, looking ahead to fresh start


Last year was supposed to be an epic one at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers. The $17.2 million expansion announced in late 2018 was completed just in time for what was sure to be the venue’s biggest season yet. A new partnership with Live Nation Entertainment, plus a capacity increase to 11,000, was drawing attention from acts who probably hadn’t even blinked at our area before.

Backstreet Boys, Alanis Morissette and Lindsey Stirling were all poised to make their AMP debuts while iconic rock band Phish was set for its first ever visit in the whole state. Country superstar Kenny Chesney would show his continued love for Northwest Arkansas with his fourth visit to Rogers. One of the AMP’s most popular past shows — Matchbox Twenty — was returning. Heavy metal rockers Disturbed were going to be introduced to Northwest Arkansas with a stop on the 20th anniversary tour of their debut album, while country trio Rascal Flatts would say farewell on theirs. And those are just some of the names that had been announced.

Well, nearly a year later, we know the tune all too well. Twenty-twenty didn’t allow for the fanfare AMP staff envisioned in sharing the expanded facility with the community and, like dominoes, everything on the already robust summer schedule had come crashing down by mid-spring.

“It was heartbreaking,” Jennifer Wilson, public relations director, recalls of the moment they realized everything was going to change. “Not just because we wanted to open the expanded venue, but also because of the reality that this was going to impact hundreds of thousands of people within our industry and the other industries that support or depend on touring shows — artists, stagehands, ushers, hospitality folks, as well as hotels, restaurants, logistics companies.

Local reggae band The Irie Lions perform at the AMP’s new Choctaw Pavilion during Happy Hour on Sept. 11. “The sense of community is strong within our industry, especially in Northwest Arkansas,” AMP Vice President Brian Crowne said in the fall. “There is definitely emotion involved as artists get to connect with fans again in person. Any since of normalcy is moving during these times.” Guests are required to mask up unless they are seated at appropriately distanced tables.
(Courtesy Photo)

“I know I personally had pinned my hopes on opening the AMP in the summer and returning to some level of normalcy. When we realized that was not going to happen — we were devastated.”

Though at a smaller scale, staff did get to show off some of the AMP’s new amenities throughout the summer and fall once they had gathered best practices from across the industry to develop appropriate safety protocols. The new flexible space at the venue offered opportunities for experiencing live music and movies outside, with adequate social distancing.

The AMP Happy Hour series employed hospitality workers, local and regional bands and supported the local live music industry as those bands performed in the new covered plaza at the top of the campus. Saturday Cinema brought some old favorites back to the huge outdoor screen. And, inside, donors got to see some of the additions to the backstage area during two blood drives hosted at the AMP.

“While our stage has the capacity to accommodate the biggest names in the touring industry, our backstage areas needed better amenities to better accommodate the larger tours,” Peter Lane, president and chief executive officer of the Walton Arts Center, which owns the venue, told guests during the introductory tour in August.

The expansion includes the covered plaza and a bar at the top of the lawn, more concession stands and restrooms, an expanded main entry and a bigger box office. Among the changes to the backstage area are a laundry, a renovated and larger dining area for artists and crews and four dressing rooms, putting the facility at eight dressing rooms total.

“This renovation was all about creating great spaces and experiences for our patrons and for our artists,” Wilson shares. “I believe you can learn from every situation, and 2020 is no exception to that. We wanted to develop programming during this intermission period that allowed us to stay connected to the community, that kept artists employed and that are safe art experiences, and we were able to accomplish that because of the great team we have at the Walmart AMP and Walton Arts Center.”

The new Choctaw Plaza is visible behind Peter Lane, president and chief executive officer of the Walton Arts Center, as he leads a tour in August of the newly expanded Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers.
(File Photo/David Gottschalk)

Twelve shows scheduled for last year have already confirmed dates for the new 2021 season. Organizers and industry partners will watch the vaccination distribution progress and continue gathering information and best practices as they wait with bated breath to see if large tours will be feasible and, most importantly, safe again this year. As AMP staff members prepare for 2021, though, Wilson is confident that music lovers can expect to see, at the very least, the return of the popular AMP Happy Hour series this year.


Coming Soon

It’s still a bit chilly to return to outdoor entertainment, but the Walmart AMP could optimistically be announcing additional shows in the coming months. Watch The Free Weekly, the venue’s social media channels and its website for updates.

Categories: Music