Rockin' on the River promoter looks for new venue

by Steve Wiandt | REPORTER Published:

Cuyahoga Falls -- Bob Earley, promoter of Rockin' on the River for 11 years, said he will not apply to a new committee formed by the mayor to remain the event's promoter next year.

So, the Aug. 29 Rockin' on the River concert will be Earley's swan song at Falls River Square.

Earley told the Cuyahoga Falls News-Press on July 30 that he believes the city wants to go in a different direction and so he is going to do the same.

"It's in the wind, the times they are a-changing," Earley said, adding that Kenny Rogers said it best, "Know when to hold them and know when to fold them. And I'm folding."

Mayor Don Walters confirmed by phone he wants to see what the people of Falls want to do on summer weekends so he has appointed a seven-member committee called the Festival Review Committee.

"I want the committee to look at all the interested parties," Walters said. "I'm guessing there will be interest. They will look at all the potential promoters and what they would want to do there. It appears the city is putting it on, but we don't. It reflects on the city so we want to have a good product down there."

"Bob Earley has done a great job for a long time and I have absolutely nothing against Rockin' on the River, but I'm one person… Falls River Square is owned by the residents. My job is to make the best decision for the residents for the investments they've made in the Riverfront and what's the best thing to do down there on Friday or Saturday nights."

Walters said he's a busy man and can't do all the "leg work" to investigate options.

The committee may find Earley is the best person for the job, Walters said, adding he realizes the review process may have "thrown a wrench" in Earley's plans because he likely can't book bands until the committee brings him back.

Earley, however, said he will not send a proposal to the Festival Review Committee.

"We can't wait for him to make a decision," Earley said. "Our track record speaks for itself. I'm not applying to any committee to have the right to put up all my money to run a concert."

During the past 11 years, Earley said he has paid a total of $200,000 to the city to rent Falls River Square and another $200,000-plus to the Cuyahoga Falls Police Department for security. He said has also donated more than $350,000 to local charities over the past 11 years.

According to Earley, Walters wants to rename the event, and asked Earley if he would be willing to do that.

"You wouldn't ask McDonald's to change their name to McJohnson's. Rockin' on the River draws 6,000 to 8,000 people and has for 28 years, and that's the one thing we take issue with. We would never change the name."

Members of the newly formed Festival Review Committee, appointed by the mayor, are Bob Weinhardt, City Council Ward 4; Brent VanFossen, Front Street Mall business owner and Chamber of Commerce member; Dawn Tallent, community, social media and riverfront activist; Paul Baker, community activist and Board of Zoning Appeals member; Mike Brillhart, community activist and Planning Commission member; Matt Weiss, Chamber of Commerce Member and school and community activist; and Jean Mathews, community activist and Blossom Music Center Women's Committee member.

Earley and his wife, Sandy, who together own the Rockin' on the River name, met with the mayor on July 28. Bob and Sandy's company, Falls River Concerts LLC, has been putting on Rockin' on the River for the past 11 years. Walters let the Earleys know about the committee and that many on the committee are leaning toward keeping Bob Earley as the promoter but they have to look at proposals by anyone interested.

At that time, Earley hand-delivered a letter to Walters stating while he and Sandy were at first "shocked" by Walters' news that the city may go in another direction, "we now see it as a great opportunity to explore other options and venues."

"On that note," the letter continued, "as of Monday, Aug. 3, 2014, Rockin' on the River will be actively pursuing other opportunities for 2015 and beyond. We will start a marketing campaign to promote our last four Cuyahoga Falls concerts with some special ideas. We hope the city will join us in celebrating and promoting these last four events."

Walters said after he was elected mayor he told Earley "he was guaranteed 2014 and after that I would explore all options, but he would be included in the review and selection process for 2015. He was fine with that."

"Don Walters has told us since he was elected that he would leave Rockin' on the River alone. He wouldn't touch it. Everything would be the same as last year," Earley said. "He has kept his word. I don't have a bad word to say about him… There's no animosity whatsoever."

The mayor said there have been other organizations that have shown some interest in organizing weekend events on the Riverfront, but there is no process for someone to come in and do that. "It all pretty much fell on the mayor," he said. "I didn't want this to be political so I found seven people who are Cuyahoga Falls residents who are unbiased and have no ties to Oktoberfest, Irish Fest or Bob Earley."

Earley said he is going to have a tent at the final concerts where people can stop by and share their memories of Rockin' on the River and have their picture taken. Earley said the stage will be open at times for people to share their stories with the audience.

Earley said he is "up for adoption" by any community where he can "take his talents."

"Rockin' on the River will go forward," Earley said, "just not in Cuyahoga Falls."

Email: swiandt@recordpub.com

Phone: 330-541-9420

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