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Rock Crusher Canyon going on summer hiatus

Once a place where top acts came to play, the management says the economy has temporarily closed the venue's doors.

By JORGE SANCHEZ
Published May 4, 2003

photo
[Times photo: Steve Hasel]
Rock Crusher Canyon will close its doors for the summer.

CRYSTAL RIVER - When the announcement came a few weeks ago that Rock Crusher Canyon Garden Pavilion was closing its doors for a summer hiatus, the rumors started flying.

"I've heard them all," said Tom Hinds, general manager of Rock Crusher Canyon, "that we were going bankrupt; that we wouldn't re-open."'

Hinds reiterated last week that Rock Crusher Canyon will re-open in the fall. He just can't say when exactly. Or what the new weekend entertainment will be.

The pavilion closed its doors after Saturday night's show for what is announced as a summertime closing.

"We weren't making it over the summers, and this summer everything indicated that things were even going to be even worse, with the war and the economy still down," Hinds said in a recent interview.

Rock Crusher Canyon is three venues in one: the Garden Pavilion, a 20,000-square-foot building that hosts weekend music and buffet dinner dances; the Rock Crusher Canyon Amphitheater for concerts; and the Rock Crusher Canyon RV park.

"We're still operating the RV park over the summer," Hinds said. "The American Coach national RV rally was here this week, and the RV park was full."

But other than the recreational vehicle park, the entertainment roster has slowed to a trickle at Rock Crusher Canyon, which in the past hosted top name acts such as Willie Nelson, Mickey Rooney, Travis Tritt, Alabama and Hootie and the Blowfish.

Hinds blames the economy.

"Things are tough, and these are leisure activities, and that's the first thing that most people cut back on when money gets tight," he said.

He noted that Cypress Gardens closed last month after a run of nearly 70 years.

"Disney does it too, they close hotels, or sections of hotels and parts of the theme parks for a while. The public doesn't always find out," he said.

Rock Crusher Canyon opened in 1995 and went after big name stars right away. The annual Crystal River Jam country music festivals drew the top names in country music. Because of the amphitheater's limited seating capacity of about 5,500, the festivals failed to make a lot of money.

Then management started scaling back. No more three-day festivals filled with A-list entertainers. Instead, Rock Crusher booked classic acts such as Lee Greenwood, Three Dog Night, Roy Clark and The Oak Ridge Boys for the major shows at the amphitheater.

"We sort of started in reverse order," entertainment director Johnny Baier said when announcing the scaled-back entertainment roster two years ago.

"Most venues would have started with the smaller acts and gradually built up to the bigger acts," he said.

Baier also worked as bandleader of the house band Razz Ma Tazz, which performed most weekends at the Garden Pavilion. During the cooler months, the Garden Pavilion drew weekend audiences from all over central Florida. But as the hot weather approached, the crowds begin to thin out.

As this summer closed in, Rock Crusher staff read the writing on the wall and decided the best option was to close down, albeit temporarily.

But a look at the Rock Crusher Web page shows that after Saturday's show, no acts are booked for the rest of the year. The performance calendar used to be filled many months in advance.

"We learned a little about booking acts so far in advance," Hinds said. "We wound up paying too much, because after we booked them, then they set up a tour with us as the ones which paid full price and every other venue would get a price break."

As for the employees who were laid off, including Baier, Hinds said:

"That's the nature of the entertainment business. When things are slow, entertainers get laid off. If they're still available when we reopen in the fall, then we'll probably hire them back."

The RV park should continue to draw family vacationers through the summer months, Hinds said, so there will continue to be some level of activity at Rock Crusher.

"Next fall, we're coming back," he said.

- Jorge Sanchez can be reached at 860-7313 or sanchez@sptimes.com

[Last modified May 4, 2003, 01:46:30]

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