Levitt Amp Fall Music Series

WORDS Bob Robinson
IMAGES courtesy 64.6 Downtown

Grab your picnic basket, ice chest, and lawn chairs and get ready for five weekends of live music during the month of September. The Levitt Amp Fall Music Series is bringing bands from around the country to Fort Smith’s picturesque Riverfront Amphitheater. World-class live entertainment for the entire family. And it’s FREE!

The music series is sponsored in part by the Mortimer & Mimi Levitt Foundation (levitt.org), with additional support from the City of Fort Smith, Dream Alliance Foundation, and Choctaw Casino & Resort. Since 2015, the Levitt Foundation has provided funding to bring the joy of free, live music to more than fifty small to mid-size communities across America.

In 2017 the Levitt Foundation grant appeared on the radar of Talicia Richardson, Executive Director of 64.6 Downtown. Talicia and Fort Smith City Administrator Carl Geffken began reviewing the specifics of the grant. They found the Riverfront Amphitheater and downtown community met all the core values defined for the grant. With the City’s full support, Talicia applied for the grant in 2019. It was approved and concerts on the riverfront began in 2021. The grant includes funding for the music series through 2026.

The Riverfront Amphitheater is an ideal location to host family-friendly community gatherings. The terraced stone seating built into the hillside will accommodate approximately five hundred spectators. Each level provides an unobstructed view of the stage, plus ample space for attendees to set up lawn chairs or spread a blanket to watch performers. If the music motivates listeners to dance, there is plenty of room to let loose. The 6pm start time will also gift audiences with a scenic sunset across the Arkansas River.

The amphitheater was created in 2001 as part of the Riverfront Master Plan to extend Harry E. Kelley Park. The city already owned property north of the park; however, the elevation was twenty-two feet higher than the existing park. Gaylen Hunter of Mahg Architecture, Inc. said the original design proposed a walkway for visitors to transition down the incline to reach the Donald W. Reynolds Stage. Gaylen saw the gentle sloping grade as an opportunity to create something unique for the park. He and John McIntosh traveled to Chattanooga, Tennessee, to see how they had developed their riverfront. They returned to create this amazing, natural outdoor performance venue.

To date, concerts were held on Thursdays. For 2023 the ten concerts were split into two separate series. Five performances during the spring season in May and June, with the remaining scheduled for Saturdays in September. Talicia is excited about hosting a portion of the series at the end of summer. She believes this will expand the reach of their audience.

“UAFS classes will be in session,” Talicia explained. “Students who attend the university from out of town would not have been attending classes during the first half of the series.  It will also allow families to join the festivities who had been unable to work it into their busy weekday schedules during the spring series.”

She believes the Saturday concerts will encourage attendees to tie the Levitt performances with other activities and spend the day exploring the downtown area. They can visit the recently opened U.S. Marshals Museum, the Regional Art Museum, or stroll along the Gregg Smith River Trail, then conclude the day with an evening of live music. Or attend the concert first and head downtown afterward for dinner. They could also double down on live music at one of the clubs on Garrison Avenue. Performances at most of those venues normally strike up the bands after the 9pm finale of the Levitt Amp performances.

Those attending the Levitt music series living outside Fort Smith might choose to make it a weekend event. Reserve a room at one of the nearby downtown hotels and walk to the Levitt Amp. Music lovers who own a camper can set up their home on wheels at the new Riverfront RV Resort less than a mile downriver from the amphitheater. The downtown area offers a wide array of activities for visitors to explore.

Attendees will discover a diverse mix of music genres, from Louisiana Creole Zydeco to classic funk rhythm & blues. And the backgrounds of the performers are equally wide-ranging from BAM (Black American Music) singer Branjae to Hispanic rock band Voltaje. The series is an excellent opportunity to experience music you may never have had the opportunity to before now. This checks the box for one of the guiding principles for the Levitt Foundation’s grants, “high-caliber arts programming that reflects a wide range of tastes and cultural traditions.”

“Diversity of the genre is important to them,” explained Talicia. “Their mission is to expose people to music they may not normally listen to.”

The Levitt Foundation encourages audiences who would not normally attend the same events to come together, to engage with one another and expand their circle of family and friends.

Read the stories behind this collection of interesting musicians coming to the Riverfront Amphitheater at the 64.6 website. However, do not allow unfamiliarity with a style of music to influence your decision to attend. Embrace the differences. Mark the dates for all the performances on your calendar! You never know, classic traditional Latin rhythm may become your new favorite music playlist. Perhaps by bringing followers of diverse music categories together for five consecutive weekends, we will discover we aren’t all that different, just as Mortimer and Mimi Levitt had intended.

Find more details on the performers at 646downtown.com.

Do South Magazine

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