061319_con_Rockn on the River

An audience gathers at River Prairie Park in Altoona last year for the first season of the Rockin’ on the River summer concert series. This year Rockin’ on the River has returned Wednesdays along with two new series: Fusion at Four Seasons, with musicians also playing Wednesday nights before the Rock’n shows; and Kickin’ It Country on Monday evenings beginning July 1.

Concerts proved so popular last year at River Prairie Park in Altoona that city officials are offering even more opportunities to enjoy music at the scenic site.

The park near the Eau Claire River opened last summer with, in addition to natural amenities, Rock’n on the River, a Wednesday night series in the park’s amphitheater.

This summer marks an encore performance of Rock’n on the River, and two other weekly concert lineups will make their debut:

• Fusion at Four Seasons, beginning at 5:30 p.m. Wednesdays on the smaller Four Seasons stage near Prevea Amphitheater.

• Kickin’ It Country, which will step onto the amphitheater stage on Monday nights beginning July 1.

Altoona Mayor Brendan Pratt said city officials were pleased at the turnout for Rock’n on the River’s first splash, with 1,500 people on opening night and crowds of up to 2,000 for the rest of the summer. But they knew there was room to grow.

“Even at the end of the season, people said, ‘I didn’t realize you were doing this,’” Pratt said in a phone interview. “So it just kind of continued to grow, and I think it will even get bigger.”

Rock’n on the River is set up to play familiar hits and get the crowd moving. As Pratt said he tells the musicians, “As long as you can get people to get up and dance, you’ve accomplished your mission.”

That strategy worked last year, getting children as well as adults into the action.

As Rock’n on the River flourished, Pratt said, some people noticed the Four Seasons Stage, a smaller spot near the amphitheater, wasn’t being used. So he brought that up with musicians: “Is there a chance we can add to the concert series by utilizing this other stage,” he said. “They said, ‘Well, great!’ So we got some local musicians and they actually set it up on their own; we just gave them a place to play.”

This series runs from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesdays, right before Rock’n on the River. For this series, the performers can choose what to play, including original music.

“It could be a variety of different music there so it will be interesting to listen to those before Rock’n on the River,” Pratt said.

The popularity of Rock’n on the River caught the attention of country music fans, who wondered about a possible venue for their favorite tunes. City officials chose Monday nights, which didn’t conflict with some of the other concert series in town, and also saw an opportunity to showcase the Monday evening farmers market at the site.

Visitors on either night also can enjoy food trucks, the splash pad and the creek that runs through the grounds. Attendees also, Pratt added, could kayak down the Eau Claire River to the events.

“So it’s a fun time down there,” he said.

The aforementioned amenities highlight the fact that the three concert series are about more than music.

“What it offers (audiences) is a night out with the family of free entertainment where they can get out and enjoy the park,” Pratt said, “and not only for the people that like to listen to music but just the families in general. … The parents can be listening to music; the kids can be playing on the sandy beach on the stream (and) on the water.”

The audience numbers in the first year, not to mention the natural surroundings, give the bands added incentive to play for the series.

“They all love to play,” Pratt said. “We’ve had several of them (say), ‘This is the best venue that we’ve ever played at with this amphitheater the way it’s set up. … They enjoy playing there, and the more exposure a band gets the more opportunities they get seen and get booked somewhere else.”

The fact that the park just opened last summer underscores the importance of letting people know about all the recreational activities. For instance, as Pratt pointed out, people can kayak down the Eau Claire River and get out and enjoy one of the concerts.

“People are still learning about it,” he said, “and that’s why the intent is (to say): ‘We’re here; come down and enjoy.’”

Just as the series helps showcase the park, the park helps put the city as a whole in the spotlight.

“Everything that we’ve done there at River Prairie is with the intent of showcasing what Altoona has to offer as far as people moving to Altoona or people interacting with Altoona,” Pratt said.

The concert also helps gives a boost to nonprofit organizations, through the help of the music series’ highly appreciated sponsors.

This year, on every Monday and Wednesday night, each sponsor selects one nonprofit to receive 25% of the proceeds from buckets or hats passed around the audience each night. That method can raise $800 to $1,000 on a given night. This year 22 charities will benefit throughout the season.

Contact: 715-833-9214, william.foy@ecpc.com, @BillFoy1 on Twitter