The last notes have been played, the tickets have been counted and the Peninsula’s biggest music weekend is in the books.
With the Hampton Jazz Festival at the Coliseum and Funhouse Fest on the lawn outside the Art Museums of Colonial Williamsburg, thousands of fans came to the area — many from far away — to enjoy the sounds of national recording artists.
The Hampton Jazz Festival drew about 19,500 over three days. By the festival’s own standards, that’s something of a lackluster turnout. Last year, marking the festival’s 50th anniversary, the opening night was a sellout of close to 9,800, and the three-day attendance was more than 24,000.
Even so, thousands of music lovers coming to Hampton — many of them from other states — means good business for local hotels and restaurants.
Mary Fugere, director of the Hampton Convention and Visitors Bureau, said by email the economic impact of the festival “varies from year to year, depending on tickets sold and room night demand.” She estimates that more than 4,500 hotel rooms were booked for this year’s festival, and that the event had an impact of more than $1.3 million.
“The festival continues to have an incredible economic importance for Hampton and our surrounding cities,” she said. “Families, college and social organizations reunite in Hampton for the three-day event that has become an annual tradition.”
The Virginia Arts Festival’s Funhouse Fest, curated by Williamsburg musician Bruce Hornsby, was beset by rain and lightning for the first time in its three-year history. No performances were canceled, but the opening set by Hornsby and his band the Noisemakers was cut short on Friday night.
Headliner Alison Krauss took the stage as scheduled once the storm had passed. Saturday’s show, headlined by Hornsby and the Virginia Symphony Orchestra, went smoothly after the rains turned out to be smaller than forecast.
Funhouse Fest was shortened to two days this year, after going three days in each of its first two. Rob Cross, artistic director for the Virginia Arts Festival, said the two-day format likely will remain in place.
“A lot of our guests are from out of town,” Cross said, “and one thing we were hearing was that a Sunday show was hard for them because they needed to be back home so they could work on Monday.”
Final attendance figures are not yet available, but Cross said that one week before the festival the two-day ticket sales were on pace to surpass the approximately 6,000 sold for 2017’s three-day event.
Even after a storm interrupted Friday night’s show and forced evacuation of the site, Cross said a substantial percentage of the crowd stayed nearby and returned to see Krauss’ set once the show re-started.
“Under the tent, it was totally jammed for her,” Cross said. “It’s harder to judge the lawn because people were spread out, but there were still a lot of people there when the show started back up, and the police and fire departments did a great job of getting everybody in and out safely.”
In addition to the two big festivals, the free Downtown Hampton Block Party drew one of its biggest crowds in recent memory to see the Texas psychobilly trio Reverend Horton Heat. Coming on the heels of the previous week, when the featured act was the “Who’s Bad” Michael Jackson tribute show, the block party has been pulling people into downtown Hampton this summer.
Cyndy Masterstaff, director of marketing and communications for downtown Hampton, said the weather this summer has been much better than last year, when a half-dozen of the Saturday night block parties were rained out. While precise attendance figures are not taken, Masterstaff said based on how far back Queen Street was packed, the “Who’s Bad” show may have drawn the biggest attendance in the event’s 24-year history.
“That was crazy big, and they were in so tight I could hardly get through the crowd,” Masterstaff said. “And it was almost as big for Reverend Horton Heat. Even with the bad weather (in the forecast), people still came out.”
She said she hopes the well-received shows will continue to spike attendance, especially with Slapnation and the Deloreans — two local acts that have been consistent audience favorites — scheduled for the next two weekends.
“We actually saw a lot of online reviews these past two weeks, which we don’t usually see,” she said. “Most weekends people come and enjoy the block party and that’s it. But we had a lot of people writing online these past two weeks, saying that they’ll be back.”
Holtzclaw can be reached by phone at 757-928-6479 or on Twitter @mikeholtzclaw.