Britt nets 69,000 fans in '08

For the Britt Festivals it was a good year. Especially compared with the previous year.

Total attendance for the 2008 summer music season was just under 69,000, including both pop and classical concerts. That's compared to 59,000 in 2007. Britt's all-time attendance record was 80,500 in 2005.

"We felt pretty good about it," said Britt's acting marketing director, Sarah King Cole. "We're glad to see it come back up, especially in the economy we're in."

Six shows on the county-owned Britt hillside in Jacksonville sold out the 2,200-capacity venue: Crosby, Stills and Nash on June 1, Michael Franti and Spearhead on June 21, Mark Knopfler on June 29, Billy Idol on July 2, George Thorogood and the Destroyers/Buddy Guy on July 26 and Bonnie Raitt on Sept. 1.

Crosby, Stills and Nash was the only show that sold out in the member pre-sale before tickets went on sale to the public.

Five other shows came close to capacity, selling 1,800 seats or more. They were LeAnn Rimes on June 9, Keb' Mo'/Taj Mahal on June 23, Earth Wind and Fire on June 26, Three-Dog Night on July 10, G. Love and Special Sauce/John Butler Trio on Sept. 5 and The Black Crows, who wrapped up the season on Sept. 7.

Nine shows sold out last year, but only two others sold more than 1,800 tickets then. Twenty-one of this year's shows (of 43 total) sold out all reserved seats, leaving only lawn seating.

Several acts were commercial disappointments, including The Average White Band on July 13, Billy Bob Thornton and the Box Masters on July 12 and Bill Evans and Soulgrass on Sept. 6.

The Thornton and Evans shows sold only about 600 tickets each. Evans is a jazz star who has spent most of his career in Europe, but Thornton is a highly visible actor and movie star.

"For some reason it didn't translate," King Cole said of Thornton's fame. "Maybe (it was) just seeing him so differently."

None of the shows Britt presented at the Lithia Motors Amphitheater at the Jackson County Expo sold out, but each sold 4,000 seats or more in the 5,900-capacity venue. The Steve Miller Band on Aug. 3 sold 4,000 seats, Brooks and Dunn on Aug. 7 sold 4,300, and Willie Nelson on Aug. 30 hit 4,500.

Britt's classical season, its historic centerpiece, sold about 6,500 tickets, compared to 6,700 last year. Violinist Midori alone sold more than 1,300 tickets for her Aug. 15 concert.

"That's huge for a classical audience," King Cole said.

She said there were several surprises in the course of the season, including rocker Billy Idol selling out despite the show being a late addition to the season. Another was G. Love and Special Sauce fans turning out at the last minute to boost that show.

"There was a line 50-deep as the show started," King Cole said.

For Michael Franti, the lawn tickets sold out first. That's the opposite of most shows. But Franti fans don't sit in reserved seats. They go forward and dance.

Another surprise for Britt was selling 600 tickets in the week leading up to the Michelle Shocked/The Devil Makes Three show, which King Cole attributed to Devil Makes Three fans.

"In terms of tickets sold the last week before the show," she said, "it was the biggest."

Reach reporter Bill Varble at 776-4478 or e-mail

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