Jamming In Beaver Dam

By Paul Sandefur

In 2013, I stood in the new downtown park in Beaver Dam, Ky., with Commissioner Kevin Davis, surveying its progress. As our eyes made their way to a hillside in the Western Kentucky town of 3,500, we both noticed the same area and simultaneously exclaimed, “That’s a great spot for an amphitheater!” Two years later, the new amphitheater was hosting acts from Merle Haggard to 38 Special.

This amphitheater was a natural fit for Beaver Dam, as music is a major component of the community’s heritage. Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe and Grammy-winning Christian performer Jason Crabb and the Crabb Family were all born in Ohio County. Another selling point for moving forward with the construction of the amphitheater was the location—within a 30-mile radius of Beaver Dam, the population exceeds 100,000. Coupled with the city’s location at the junction of major north/south and east/west highways and its proximity to Nashville, this was an ideal site for such a venue.

Attention To Detail
The key to making the amphitheater a success was to build a facility that would be unique. Beaver Dam was fortunate that Jason Tierney, the chairman of the Tourism Commission, had a background in music and sound.  Tierney worked with the architect on each detail of the design. The finished product was a $2-million state-of-the-art facility.

Because the plan was to accommodate larger, professional shows, the stage and visibility were very important. Initial plans called for a 2,000+-square-foot, covered stage with a cantilevered roofing system so no support columns would be needed on the front corners. As with many projects, site conditions affected the outcome. The foundation required to accomplish the cantilevered effect would have added over $1.5 million to the project cost. In the end, the city opted to install corner supports and forego the additional costs. As it turned out, stage visibility was not hindered, and the theater can accommodate shows for up to 1,600 people on the main level with lawn-chair seating and the ability to expand to 5,000 with a grass-bowled, second-tier, bermed hillside.

Due to the multi-functionality of the theater, a professional was brought in to assist Tierney not only in designing the sound system, but also integrating all of the logistics of lighting, power, rigging, and systems control. Due to budget constraints, the design resulted in a system that is self-contained for 90 percent of the events the city will host. The system can be supplemented with additional equipment as needed for larger events, and was designed to be compatible with the equipment of a local sound contractor for such situations.

Comfortable Yet Practical
The city’s Tourism Commission plans that the facility will host a number of moderate-sized shows throughout the season with attendance in the 1,500 to 2,000 range. Two or three larger shows were planned for each year, but like the sound budget, realities had to be considered. Planners determined the most cost-effective way to proceed was to construct supporting facilities to accommodate the moderate-sized shows. Restroom and concession facilities were designed to handle crowds of up to 2,000 people. Portable facilities can be brought in for the shows expecting larger crowds. During the first year of operation, 10 shows were held with three of them having audiences in excess of 2,500. Sharing parking facilities with the baseball complex, other parking within the park, and satellite parking has proven more than sufficient.

Undertaking development of a facility of this magnitude in a small, rural community can be quite daunting. But with music being such an important component of the community, the city didn’t think twice about moving forward. In 2013, the city instituted a 3-percent restaurant tax that was used for the construction of the amphitheater. Kentucky state statute allows small- to medium-sized cities to implement such a tax with proceeds used to develop and promote tourism facilities and activities. The Beaver Dam Amphitheater debuted in October 2014 to performances by a regional band, Insulated, and country performers Joe Diffie and Lonestar. Just over a year later, the amphitheater has hosted audience members from across Kentucky, in addition to at least 21 states. With word about the facility spreading among the entertainment industry, performers’ managers have been contacting city tourism officials seeking possible bookings.

One of my favorite quotations is that “We are doing things in Beaver Dam that you don’t do in Beaver Dam!” The community—for the most part—has bought in to that sentiment, and so far the plan is working.

Paul Sandefur is the mayor of the city of Beaver Dam, Ky. Reach him at bdcitymayor@bellsouth.net.