BROOKSVILLE — For five years, the Bandshell Bash concert series served as a small cultural oasis in a town starved for after-hours activities.
In addition to showcasing local and regional talent, the shows at the Hernando Park band shell attracted nationally known rock acts such as Rick Derringer, and oldies doo-wop groups such as the Coasters and the Crests.
But the once-popular free monthly concerts appear to have taken their final bow. Hernando County Fine Arts Council chairman Brian Brijbag on Friday said the organization has voted to drop its support of the series, citing lack of sponsorship money and its desire to focus its attention on other events.
"It's sad to lose it," said Brijbag, a former member of the committee that organized the event. "The Bash was a positive event. But over time, the popularity faded. We felt it was time to move onto other things."
Former Bandshell Bash committee chairman Mike Hannigan said the Fine Arts Council's support of the event had been on the wane for some time. Upon news of the council's pullout, Hannigan and fellow Bandshell Bash committee member Wayne Lowe resigned from the organization.
"I just don't agree with their reasons for dropping it," Hannigan said. "It brought constant exposure to the community. The costs involved were pretty minimal in my opinion."
Launched in February 2005, the concert series was part of a unique partnership between the Fine Arts Council and the city of Brooksville, and was thought by many to be the spark needed to kick-start a long-awaited downtown business renaissance.
Billed as a "family friendly," and alcohol-free event, the concerts offered every genre from jazz and country to hard rock and hip-hop.
Though attendance averaged about 200, occasional name acts sometimes pushed the limits of the 1.5-acre park on E Fort Dade Avenue.
An appearance by the Coasters drew an estimated crowd of 5,000, forcing organizers to find parking spaces blocks away from the park. Classic rocker Rick Derringer drew nearly as many fans, many of whom were from outside of Hernando County.
"You could tell the difference when it was the day of the Bash just by looking at the increase in traffic around town," said Pierre DesJardins, a Brooksville business leader and former Bandshell Bash committee member.
Indeed, on the day of the concerts, several downtown merchants kept their doors open later in anticipation of an uptick in customers.
In 2006, the Fine Arts Council earned a $48,000 challenge grant from the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs. The money was intended to fund the series for many years to come. However, DesJardins believes it wasn't spent wisely.
"They went a little wild with it, (hiring) a lot of expensive acts," said DesJardins, who left the Bandshell Bash committee shortly after the grant was awarded. "Had they used it right it should have lasted them a long time."
By 2008, the concert series was under financial strain. Unable to drum up much support from local businesses, the council held a fundraiser and collected an additional $5,000 to keep the series going.
Hannigan said he never supported the committee's push to hire big-ticket acts, preferring instead to keep the concert series focused on affordable local and regional acts.
"We had a lot of people who would come out no matter who you put on the stage," he said. "We should have paid more attention to them. They were the ones that supported what we were doing."
Hannigan said he sees no reason why the concert series can't continue. He'd like to find a suitable nonprofit organization to piggyback the effort onto in order to get a more favorable liability insurance rate. And he's in the process of hunting for sponsors that would like to be associated with the Bandshell Bash.
"During the five years we did the concerts I don't recall getting even one complaint," Hannigan said. "It was something that was fun and free. These days, there aren't many things like that."
Logan Neill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 848-1435.