On The Waterfront approaches

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When Labor Day weekend rolls around, Rockford's downtown will transform into one of the largest festivals in Illinois. This year's 21st annual On The Waterfront will be no exception. The end-of-summer celebration will feature hundreds of talented performers during its four-day run.

The festival kicks off Thursday, Sept. 2 with a concert by the Allman Brothers Band at Davis Park. Known for hits like “Ramblin’ Man” and “Whipping Post,” the veteran blues/southern rock band has been performing for more than three decades. In 2003, the group released Hittin’ The Note, its first new album in nine years and earned a Grammy nomination for the 12-minute jam, “Instrumental Illness.” The Allman Brothers Band reserved seat tickets are $38 in advance or $45 at the gate. General admission prices are $15 in advance or $22 at the gate. An On The Waterfront button is not required for this show.

Rowdy country rockers Montgomery Gentry will play the Miller Lite Great Lawn Stage Friday, Sept. 3. The energetic duo consists of Eddie Montgomery (vocals) and Troy Gentry (vocals, guitar). After opening for several country music heavyweights, including Kenny Chesney and Brooks and Dunn, the group is currently headlining its own tour to promote its recently released fourth CD, You Do Your Thing. The album has been quickly climbing the country charts thanks to the infectious single, “If You Ever Stop Loving Me.” Tickets for the Montgomery Gentry performance go on sale Saturday, July 10 at 11 a.m. at the MetroCentre box office. Reserved seats are $29 in advance or $35 at the gate. General admission is free at all Great Lawn performances with the Waterfront button.

The Isley Brothers will provide main stage entertainment Sunday, Sept. 5. The R&B, gospel and jazz outfit has been an influential force in popular music since the late 1950s. Jimi Hendrix even played lead guitar for the band in the early 1960s. The group earned a Grammy in 1969 for “It's Your Thing” and from 1973 to 1983, the Isley Brothers produced nine consecutive gold or platinum records. To date, the band has released 35 albums. Reserved tickets for the Isley Brothers are $26.50 in advance or $32.50 at the gate.

At deadline, the Saturday Great Lawn Stage headliner had not yet been scheduled. The act should be announced within the next few weeks.

Stacy Welling, marketing manager for On The Waterfront, explained that a number of factors go into booking these acts. Becky Genoways, Waterfront president and CEO, books the main stage entertainment and oversees a committee consisting of 12 to 15 people. Each of these individuals is responsible for programming a specific stage. The committee is, however, limited to the performers it can book. The acts must fit the stages Waterfront offers and correspond to the demographic that attends these shows. Welling also said that bands playing on the East or West coasts during Labor Day weekend are not possibilities due to time and travel expenses. Of all these factors, money is the most significant.

“We have a pretty large programming budget that’s a major part of our festival, but it comes down to cost,” Welling said.

The price of On The Waterfront buttons is $9 in advance or $14 at the gate. To ensure festivalgoers are satisfied, the Waterfront office solicits post-festival feedback from guests.

“We do some surveying asking people for suggestions and recommendations of the groups they would like to see,” Welling said. “We do a lot of research on those groups and try to select some of those groups to make sure that the patrons are getting what they're looking for.”

Despite these efforts, a number of Rock River Times readers have expressed concern over a lack of diversity among the Waterfront stages. Particularly, they feel the rap and hip-hop genres have been under-represented. Welling said it is not cost effective to book rap and hip-hop artists.

“It's not that we don’t want them there,” Welling said. “We do because we know that there is a large market of our patrons that appreciate that kind of music. The unfortunate thing is that we don't have the funds to be able to cover the cost.”

Welling went on to say that most Waterfront acts are expected to fill an hour and a half to two-hour time slot. She explained that since most rap and hip-hop groups tend to give shorter performances, additional acts would have to be scheduled.

“We’re looking from going $50,000 to $75,000 to all of a sudden having to triple that to have three performers fill one night,” Welling said.

On The Waterfront officials hope guests will find the diversity they are looking for on the assorted side stages the festival offers. Some of the featured artists include Cowboy Mouth, who will bring its unique rock ‘n’roll to the festival, while Con Funk Shun contributes an enticing blend of jazz and funk. The Grateful Dead will be channeled by tribute band Dark Star Orchestra. This group recreates an original Grateful Dead show by following the exact set list and arrangements the band used. Meanwhile, the Reptile Palace Orchestra will mix a variety of cultural and musical influences in its world dance music. The country stage will feature Michael Twitty, son of the legendary Conway Twitty, Blake Shelton of “Austin” and “Ol’ Red” fame, and rising star Billy Currington.

For more information concerning the On The Waterfront festival, call the office at 964-4388 or visit www.onthewaterfront.com.

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