The 38th Annual Hopelands Gardens Summer Concert Series concluded this week, and the City of Aiken has noticed a continuing decline in attendance over the last few years.


Lisa Hall, supervisor of the Gardens and Rye Patch Reception Center, said 7,097 people attended the concerts all together this summer. It was down from the 8,321 who showed up last year. In 2010, more than 10,000 people attended.


That downward trend in attendance is mostly due to the bad weather that has forced many of the concerts indoors, Hall said. Out of 17 concerts, eight of them were relocated to a gymnasium at the H. Odell Weeks Activities Center this summer. Some of the concerts were moved due to heat advisories but it was mostly because of rain and storms that hit the area and put a bit of a damper on attendance.


“Everyone comes for the music, but a lot of people come for the experience to listen to it in an outdoor garden setting,” Hall said. “We’re lucky that we do have some place that we can go indoors.”


Hall said some people have asked how the city decides to move the concert indoors. Hall said they have to make that decision by 4 p.m. and staff keeps a careful eye on the weather throughout the day.


Several factors play into the decision. If precipitation is seen heading towards Aiken on the radar late that afternoon, the city decides to move it indoors. Hall said they can’t wait for it to start sprinkling because they don’t want water to damage their equipment or the equipment of the performers.


If it rained before the concert and the ground is heavily saturated, that also forces the concert indoors for safety reasons. Electrical equipment sitting around sitting water is hazardous and slick walkways could cause injuries, Hall said.


Heat is another issue. Hall said the stage could be anywhere from 15 to 30 degrees hotter than it is under the trees where most residents sit to watch the show, which could make it uncomfortable or even dangerous for performers. One afternoon before a concert, Hall said she measured the temperature on the stage and it was around 130 degrees.


Even though the rain pushed people indoors, it did help the gardens stay green and continue to flourish throughout the summer, said City Horticulturist Tom Rapp.


“Without a doubt – it made everything look good,” Rapp said. “Anytime we get rain, it’s going to make things look better, look greener.”


Attendance wasn’t too bad on the nights it was moved either – around 500 residents showed up to the gym for the last show performed by the Aiken Concert Band after rain from Hurricane Isaac moved in, Hall said.


Hall said the diversity in performances was also good this year.


Veronika Jackson, a folk and blues soloist, joined the lineup and cloggers hit the stage this year for the first time in a little more than a decade. Hall added she received a lot of positive feedback about the Aiken Community Youth Wing performance of Broadway songs.


A lot of comments of appreciation for dedicating the series to Master Public Safety Officer Scotty Richardson and Master Cpl. Sandy Rogers, who both lost their lives in the line of duty, were also shared, Hall said.


Hall said she’s already putting together the schedule for next summer’s series.


Hall is looking for feedback and suggestions regarding the Hopelands Summer Concert Series. Residents can call Hall at 642-7650 to complete a phone survey or email lhall@cityofaikensc.gov to have a survey emailed.