ST. PETERSBURG — On Nov. 5, Martina McBride, a very big country star, will play downtown St. Petersburg, a very big country market. But the seller of more than 18 million albums won't be yeehawin' at the typical concert venues here: Jannus Live, the Mahaffey Theater, Vinoy Park.
Instead, the 45-year-old will croon such smashes as This One's for the Girls and Blessed on a cozy patch of lawn at Demens Landing Park, an intimate waterfront setting known more for sunbathing than singers belting out the hits.
Give credit for luring McBride to Bill Edwards, the impresario whose clout in the music industry has recently helped book bold-faced names (folk wisp Colbie Caillat, country stud Josh Turner) into the Taste of Pinellas, for so long a bastion of wheezy acts from the '70s and '80s.
But Edwards, head of Big 3 Entertainment and the new management team at the Mahaffey, says the venue vision comes from another source: St. Petersburg Mayor Bill Foster. McBride's appearance will benefit the Dollars for Doorways fundraiser, proceeds from which go toward the city's Mayor's Mentors & More scholarship program.
"(The choice of Demens Landing) is all the mayor," says Edwards. "I'm just happy to help."
Foster called the park, named after one of the city's founders, a "great venue — there's only one way in, one way out. It's easy to gate and easy to secure."
While not a typical venue for pop music, Demens Landing has hosted the American Stage in the Park series for 26 years; spring's production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show will be the 27th (and no doubt wildest) alfresco presentation there.
The theater's stage has traditionally faced west, with a portion of the park behind it inaccessible during performances. For the McBride setup, Foster said that the stage would be more on the western side of the park facing the water, and that "we could put 3,000 people back there." The biggest-ever crowd for an American Stage outdoor event was 1,300 in 2010 for Hair, according to Roman Black, the company's assistant marketing director.
The Mahaffey or Vinoy would have been more obvious venues for the event, but they were booked: Vinoy will host the 37th annual St. Petersburg International Folk Fair on Nov. 5, while the Mahaffey will have the Florida Orchestra Pops' acrobatic Cirque de la Symphonie.
With two events happening a football's throw from each other, will there be a traffic glut?
"What we're doing now is working on the logistics," says Edwards. "But one's not going to interfere with the other. I'm not worried. That's what we do."
Parking has "never been a problem" for the American Stage shows, says Black, who adds that plenty of spaces have been available, including significant room at Progress Energy Park.
Could the concert set the stage for more to come at the small park? "It can be," Foster said. "Vinoy (Park) is a larger venue, but for a for more intimate gathering, sure. Absolutely."
Sean Daly can be reached at [email protected] His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.