Although Rogers had many hit songs on the pop/rock charts, he was especially popular among country music fans. the Gatlin’s the references of the country are indisputable.
In the decades since, country artists have been a fixture at the Carver Arena and the Civic Center Theater. But as the downtown Peoria entertainment hub begins its milestone anniversary celebrations, it seems those staples are jumping ever so slightly.
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Hard-rock and family events are plentiful over the next few months at the Civic Center. Upcoming events include ventriloquist/comedian performances Jeff Dunhamheavy metal icons Judas Priest and rockers Greta VanFlotte.
Some country gigs are looming, including a March 18 performance from superstar Reba McEntire. But there aren’t as many as usual, according to Rik Edgar, the civic center General manager.
Edgar said the shift in focus reflects the popularity of the Civic Center’s recent and upcoming family and rock shows, tied in part to the coronavirus pandemic. It could also reflect an overexposure of country artists, especially at outdoor festivals.
“I think when the pandemic hit, country artists stayed out (on tour) for a good chunk,” Edgar said. “There was pent-up demand for rock and family shows. We are seeing stronger sales than before the pandemic for rock and family shows.
“We are listening to the market and focusing on these events in the near future.”
Country artists rebel against mask mandates
For 16 months, the Civic Center did not host any public events, due to COVID-19. When the establishment reopens last July, face coverings were mandatory for most visitors.
Some country artists have rebelled against mask requirements at arenas across the country, including in Peoria.
Travis Tritt cited masking by canceling a Civic Center show scheduled for last November. A month earlier and without explanation, Jason Aldean canceled a Peoria performance. Aldean criticized the requirements for COVID vaccines in schools.
Family events are seeing growing demand
But other events, including those that aren’t traditional gigs, have played Peoria without issue.
In September, a musical based on YouTube’s educational program “Blippi” sold the Civic Center Theater, according to Edgar. Blippi’s primary audience is children 5 and under.
“I think the families trusted us to do our best to provide them with a good environment. It was really great to see these people here,” Edgar said of the Blippi show. “It now puts us on the radar of being a family show market.”
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Another such event took place on February 5 and 6 at Carver Arena – Hot Wheels Monster Trucks Live. It featured full-size versions of the legendary brand of model cars and toys.
In its Civic Center debut, Hot Wheels exceeded expectations, Edgar said. Total attendance for three shows was over 12,000. According to promoter Nick Shane, Hot Wheels set a Civic Center record for gross revenue from a monster truck event.
the Harlem Globetrotters basketball expo, another family-oriented show, has nearly doubled its attendance since its 2020 appearance in Carver, according to Edgar.
The rockers are back on the road to concert tours
Meanwhile, after an extended COVID hiatus, rock shows have returned to the road in significant numbers.
“A lot of rock artists just waited,” Edgar said. “A lot of these concert tours that were supposed to come out in 2020 and 21, they just pushed through to 2022.”
Civic Center tour opener is also a country act, singer/songwriter Cole Swindell. The first show of Swindell’s Down to the Bar tour was scheduled for Thursday night at the theatre.
So country music is by no means dead at 201 SW Jefferson Ave. But for now, at least, family/rock endeavors might be a better bet — as good as Kenny Rogers was in the late spring of 1982.
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“I don’t want to look like I’m going down on the country,” Edgar said. “We just see better short-term growth potential with rock and family shows.
“Our job is to listen to fans and respond to market demand. Current demand seems to be family and rock shows, but that may change tomorrow.”