FLETCHER: Free concert springs from community spirit

Opinion Column

Carlton Fletcher

Carlton Fletcher

Businessman Bo Henry drove by Veterans Park while running some recent errands, and a thought hit him.

“I looked out there at the park and the amphitheater and thought it’s a shame that it’s not being used more,” Henry, one of the region’s best-known musicians and a principal in Albany-based Stewbo’s Restaurant Group, said. “So I decided to give Aaron Blair a call.”

Like Henry, Blair — the city of Albany’s downtown manager — has often lamented the lack of use of some of Albany’s downtown facilities.

So the two of them decided to do something about it.

On Sunday, Henry’s Bo Henry Band and the Jodi Mann Band will present a free concert in the Veterans Park Amphitheater from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Free as in no cost to park, no cost to attend, nobody hawking food, drinks or any other merchandise.

“I thought about all the people who say things like, ‘Yeah, $5 is not a lot of money for an entertainment event, but when you take into account my wife and kids and everything else, it can get expensive,’” Henry said. “So I called Aaron and said, ‘Hey, if you can get us the amphitheater for no charge, we’ll bring a free show downtown.’”

Blair jumped at the opportunity.

“That’s one of the things I’m always talking about: getting people to come downtown,” the downtown manager said. “Bo actually called me around 10:30 one Friday night and brought up the possibility of doing a free show. I told him I didn’t think I’d have any problem selling the idea to (city officials). That turned out to be the case.”

While the Henry and Mann bands will provide free entertainment at the amphitheater, the city of Albany is kicking in use of the amphitheater and police security for the afternoon. Henry is paying for the cost to set up the sound system.

“There’s no gimmick, no hidden costs,” Henry said. “Nobody’s going to be selling anything. Everyone can pack up the kids, bring their blankets, folding chairs, coolers and picnic baskets and just have a relaxing afternoon at the park.

“We will accept individually packaged kids’ snacks and monetary donations to benefit Mission:Change, but it’s not required. We just want everyone to enjoy a nice Sunday afternoon.”

Blair, meanwhile, said he’d like to see more groups providing such activities for the community.

“This idea was well-received by the city,” he said. “Of course, Bo and his group have the necessary insurance policies we require for such events, so that made things a little easier. I think it’s a great idea and gives our citizens an opportunity to enjoy an afternoon of entertainment without any of the costs they usually have to pay.”

Along with Stewbo’s, Sunday’s free concert is being sponsored by D’town Alb@ny, Backstage, 340: A Creative Group, the Better Albany Group, blush, The LeVee and Kent’s Music in Tifton.

Henry’s business enterprise has expanded exponentially since he moved his Harvest Moon restaurant concept from downtown to West Albany. He and principle partner Stewart Campbell now own and manage The Catch Seafood and Oyster Bar, Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse and the Merry Acres restaurant, hotel and events center. But his participation in such events as the annual Mardi Gras celebration offers evidence that Henry has not abandoned downtown.

The free concert Sunday, planned on a whim and a desire to remind people that downtown has plenty to offer, shows that Henry is not the cliched businessman who will do anything to make a buck for himself. And the cooperation of Blair and city leaders, essential to the event taking place, shows that the local government is about more than passing restrictive laws and collecting taxes.

In this age of abject cynicism, those are a couple of pretty nice tidbits for Southwest Georgians.

Email Carlton Fletcher at carlton.fletcher@albanyherald.com.