Outdoor music post-pandemic has lots of opportunity in Southwest Florida

·8 min read
A bandshell is being added at Veterans Community Park on Marco Island. It is the centerpiece of the park upgrades.
A bandshell is being added at Veterans Community Park on Marco Island. It is the centerpiece of the park upgrades.

For two years the czar of entertainment in Southwest Florida was someone named Al Fresco.

Nearly all indoor entertainment moved outdoors to escape the threat of COVID-19 infection during the pandemic:

  • Three works from Naples Players over two city parks. To blend some safe fun and funds, the theater even sponsored drive-in movies on a downtown lot lent to the cause.

  • Gulfshore Opera concerts with its GO Divas on the Mercato lawn

  • Artis—Naples films for the 2020 Naples International Film Festival on its Norris Garden plaza. The festival moved back indoors in 2021 as COVID estrictions eased. But the venue still live-streamed a number of Naples Philharmonic pops concerts to outdoor cabaret tables.

  • Opera Naples, which organized an entire Festival Under the Stars — its season of operas and concerts — two years running. They were held first in Baker Park in 2020, then on the softball diamond area on the Park Street side of Cambier Park last March.

At the beginning of that open-air migration, there were two standing amphitheaters: Cambier Park, which hosted some of the above events, and the Riverside Park bandshell in Bonita Springs. Now, on what we hope is the other side of the pandemic, there are four.

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Two more structures will add to the fresh-air entertainment potential: The Caloosa Sound Amphitheater, next to Centennial Park in Fort Myers, began operating April 22. Unity Bandshell is scheduled to open Nov. 10 on Marco Island.

Both, incidentally, can hold bigger audiences than either Artis—Naples or the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Center in Fort Myers.

Neither new outdoor structure has nothing to do with the COVID-19 pandemic that swept through Florida. But will they benefit from it? Does that potential explosion of space foreshadow more of our indoor events staying outdoors?

Mmmm, no, says Rhonda Decherd, director of catering and convention services for the Luminary Hotel, which handles events at the Caloosa Sound Amphitheater for the city of Fort Myers. The amphitheater, which opened this spring, had been in the city's upgrading plans for at least four years.

"We're fully indoors now," she said of wedding receptions, conferences and other events that became open-air over the past two years. Its neighbor, the one-time Harborside Event Center, which was extensively upgraded and paired with the Luminary Hotel, is now getting "a lot of interest. The indoors has been very well received."

"But there are a lot of people who are putting on festivals or concerts who are looking at the amphitheater."

What she suggests may be that more outdoor concerts and festivals, the standard bandshell fare, could be in the works for Southwest Florida. But those will come from outside producers.

Samantha Malloy, director of parks, culture and recreation for Marco Island, said there's been no push to schedule there, either, although the Unity Bandshell isn't open yet, she pointed out.

"This had been an ongoing discussion since 2009," she said of the star-rimmed, 5,769-square-foot shell, which has the seating capacity around it for nearly 2,000 people. The economy, the accommodations the city felt were necessary, the pandemic — everything conspired to slow down its construction. "Things just got put on hold."

The grand opening is now set for Nov. 10. The bandshell will serve farmers market customers, to keep them out of a sloppy field after rains; stage at least two Island Rock concerts; and hold the awards ceremony for Christmas Island-Style. But the city is not a producer.

"We're certainly open to someone who wants to come in and do one," she said.

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The Cambier Park bandshell, the grandaddy of them, built in 1987, already has a robust slate of concerts. It's booked nearly every Sunday, sometimes Saturdays and again on Mondays during tourist season:

  • The Naples Dixieland Jazz Band's seasonal Sunday concerts are there Oct. 23 to April 9.

  • Naples Big Band varies its monthly concerts between Sundays and Mondays Nov. 20-April 17 at Cambier Park.

  • The Naples Concert Band performs monthly yet another of those Sundays, Oct. 16-April 16.

  • Naples Philharmonic generally schedules one community concert there every season.

It's home to a number of art shows as well, the Empty Bowls fundraiser, set for Jan. 22 and an annual carol sing, as well as Sunday morning services for Celebration Beach Church. It has been busy enough that Opera Naples looked to temporary stages in other locations to inaugurate and repeat its Festival Under the Stars, a COVID-inspired week of opera offerings.

But this innovation is here to stay. The opera has been happy with its ability to reach new audiences with opportunities for dining tables and refreshment. Outdoor opera is here to stay, it says.

Bonita, too, has a good mix of entertainment at its bandshell, and events such as Celebrate Bonita, Star Spangled Bonita, Taste of Bonita and Movies in the Park.

In the mix: a stadium, a traveling stage

Two other open-air players have been in the background:

  • Paradise Coast Sports Complex in East Naples is a stadium, but it brought Air Supply and Ben Allen Band concerts there in 2020 and has hosted WolfStock, the band- and brewfest to benefit Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education & Experience Center. It will again Nov. 12 this year.

  • The Seminole Casino Immokalee has a portable outdoor stage that may be best known as the home of Rockabillaque Florida. Its forte was barbecue and high-energy name bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Reverend Horton Heat, the Rhythm Shakers and Lee Rocker of The Stray Cats.

While Seminole Casino Immokalee has the outdoor portable stage, it has not been a focal point for events. That's perhaps because it gets used by its fellow Seminole casinos as an auxiliary stage for their music festivals; it is also lent for one-off events in Southwest Florida communities, said Cathy Baker, casino advertising and public relations manager.

"We've had this stage since we built the Seminole Center six years ago. Rockabillaque has been really popular.

"We're working to bring it back. This will be the third annual," she said. They're hoping to schedule it for a date in January, and its success has them thinking about more open-air potential:  "We’re not opposed to the idea of more events there. We're looking for more outdoor concerts during the season."

Patrons should check its website periodically, she said.

Here are the outdoor concerts to date:

Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee

Seminole Casino Immokalee is at 506 S 1st St, Immokalee.

Smash Mouth: 9  p.m. Saturday, Oct. 29; gates open at 7. Seminole Casino Hotel Immokalee outdoor stage. With new front man Zach Goode performing. Advance general admission $29 at 1-800-514-ETIX or online at moreinparadise.com. VIP tickets also available.

Rockabillaque: Barbecue and bands, specializing in rockabilly and blues rock. No date has been set, but it tentatively planned for January. The casino suggested music lovers keep checking its website at seminolecasinoimmokalee.com

Paradise Coast Sports Complex

Located at 3940 City Gate Blvd. S., Naples

Lifest: 4-11 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 15. Christian music and inspiration festival with seven bands/performers, including Jonathan Traylor, Leanna Crawford, I Am They, Matt Maher, Mac Powell, Kevin Quinn and Epic the Band. Speaker is Bob Lenz. Tickets $30-$40; youth, $15-$20. Bring seating. Tickets at lifest.com

WolfStock: 4-8 p.m., Saturday, Nov. 12. Shy Wolf Sanctuary Education & Experience Center is hosting the 4th Annual WolfStock BrewFest and concert to support the center's activities. Champ Jaxon, an 11-year-old blues-rock musician who has the chops to have played with the Marshall Tucker Band and opened for Alabama, headlines with his band. $20 (nondrinkers), $50 and $150 stagefront VIP experience. Tickets at paradisecoast.com

Unity bandshell, Marco Island

The new Unity Bandshell is at Veterans Memorial Park, 901 Park Ave., Marco Island.

Grand opening/ Veterans event: Thursday and Friday, Nov. 10 and 11. Unity Bandshell. An introduction to the new facility with entertainment, speeches and more on Thursday; ceremonies for Veterans Day on Friday. Hours TBA

Caloosa Sound Amphitheater

Located at 1375 Monroe St., Fort Myers. Concerts are at 7 p.m. and are free, although some preferred seating will be available by ticket sales.

The FIXX: Sept. 13. Classic rockers The FIXX,. whose ‘80s hits include “Saved By Zero” and "One Thing Leads To Another.”

Pablo Cruise: Oct. 30. The easy rock quartet whose chart hits include "Love Will Find a Way" and "Watcha Going to Do."

Lorrie Morgan: Nov. 21. Country-music star with the hits “What Part of No (Don't You Understand)" and "War Paint."

Big Bad Voodoo Daddy:  Dec. 15. Return to swing with this seven-piece band and harmonists, whose notable hits include "Mr. Pinstripe." This concert is on their "Wild and Swingin' Holiday Party" tour.

Harriet Howard Heithaus covers arts and entertainment for the Naples Daily News/naplesnews.com. Reach her at 239-213-6091.

This article originally appeared on Naples Daily News: More amphitheaters are waiting for their stars in Marco, Fort Myers