ST. PETERSBURG — With a sparkly cityscape looming behind her and chilly gusts of autumn zipping in off the waves, country singer Martina McBride officially launched Demens Landing Park as a viable — and cozy — concert venue Saturday.
Think of the waterfront nook as a wee Vinoy Park without the roving hordes of sauce-fingered RibFestians or sweaty Warped youth.
"This is a beautiful, beautiful place," the 45-year-old star said, sprinkling a li'l pixie dust.
The McBride show, and its locale, was the work of Bill Edwards, the music mogul who revamped the Mahaffey Theater and recently bought BayWalk, and Mayor Bill Foster. The politician took the stage Saturday to plug his scholarship program (the beneficiary of the show) and gush about Edwards. "He's a huge, huge corporate citizen,'' he enthused.
Both the Mahaffey and Vinoy Park were booked Saturday, with the Florida Orchestra's Cirque de la Symphonie and the International Folk Fair, respectively. That led Foster to seek out an unconventional venue. After picking Demens — and having Edwards, head of Big 3 Entertainment, book McBride — the mayor hinted that future concerts could also be held there.
"For a far more intimate gathering, sure. Absolutely," he told the St. Petersburg Times in September.
So far, so good: Traffic — both car and foot variety — flowed well, despite several events happening in close proximity. There was VIP and general admission seating, but the crowd was orderly, many warding off the evening chill by cuddling on blankets. A smattering of snacks and beer were available, as were portable toilets, which had a steady but manageable line for most of the show.
The sound was crisp, all of McBride's safe but catchy crossover hits (This One's for the Girls, One Night, Wild Angels) sounding fine. Although pop concerts are new at Demens, American Stage in the Park has been putting on musicals there for years. They situate their stage with the crowd facing the water. Fans at McBride's show were treated to that lovely skyline. Nice tweak there.
Attendance figures weren't available, but it's fair to say the head count hovered somewhere between the 1,000-plus who show up for American Stage in the Park and Foster's speculation that 3,000 could fit into Demens. Ticket prices might have been a reason for the smallish crowd; general admission entry at the door was $50.
The vibe was subdued, more wine and cheese than Red Bull and piercings. In fact, the crowd seemed sleepy.
But for the most part, the fan reviews were solid.
"I like that it's smaller than the Vinoy," said 41-year-old Samantha Sampor, who drove from Clearwater. "The sound is awesome. The only bad thing was that the crowd was dead, very dead. "
McBride voiced no complaints about the crowd — although she was a little put off by the weather: "I thought it was supposed to be hot in Florida. What the hell?"
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.