Becoming ‘Jamilton’: How RiversEdge helped change Hamilton’s nightlife



Hamilton’s summer evening concert series on May 31 will begin its eighth year — and the seventh at the RiversEdge Amphitheater in downtown Hamilton’s Marcum Park.

The RiversEdge Concert Series, composed of mostly free shows, has been growing by about 5,000 per year.

“In 2018, there were more than 30,000 attendees from 34 different states,” at 15 shows, said Adam Helms, who arranges for the RiversEdge concerts. The estimated economic impact of those 30,000 people is $1 million, he said.

The 30,000 attendance figure was up from about 25,000 in 2017, and more than 20,000 in 2016, he said.

The concerts feature a variety of musical styles, including rock, pop, country and R&B. They come from a combination of tribute bands for popular groups like Prince, Michael Jackson, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin and original acts, some of which have become nationally known since performing Hamilton along the Great Miami River.

Construction of RiversEdge helped energize the downtown area and encouraged other businesses to locate nearby, including the adjacent Marcum project, featuring apartments restaurants and other retail, officials said. It also encouraged businesses downtown and along Main Street to remain open later into the evening.

RiversEdge also was a reason that Marcum Park, the expanded recreation area that includes the amphitheater, in 2018 was named one of five “Great Public Spaces in America” by the American Planning Association, joining such earlier winners as New York’s Central Park.

“If you look back and take a look around what was around the amphitheater at the time, there was nothing there,” Helms said. “It was the amphitheater and the (Courtyard by Marriott) hotel. That was it. Everything else was greenspace or open fields.

“Since that time, we’ve seen things like Marcum Park pop up. We’ve seen Municipal Brew Works pop up. You’ve seen the Marcum apartments,” he said. “I like to say the city had a vision to put that venue there and make it a central gathering point for the city. We planted a seed with music, and look what popped up around it.”

About 50 new Hamilton businesses have opened and remained open since the concert series began, the large bulk of them in downtown and along the Main Street corridor.

In 2011, months after he moved to town, Helms said he noticed there was “not much going on downtown or around town after 5 o’clock. At that point, I had seen plans for the amphitheater, and I knew it was going to be built.”

The city decided to do the first concert series in 2012, before the amphitheater was built, to “really get people used to the idea of ‘Hey, on Thursdays, we’re going to have music in downtown Hamilton,’” Helms said.

In the summer of 2013, a crew from USA Shade & Fabric Structures installed the canopy over the stage, draped around a pair of 31-foot-high steel masts and five 10-foot-high poles around its edges. That roof was created to provide 1,700 square feet of roof to protect performers from sun and rain.

One Revivalists show in 2015 was so fun for freelance music writer Barry Brandow, who lives in New Jersey near Philadelphia, that he coined the word “Jamilton” to describe the vibe.

In 2017, the year Hamilton City Council decided the city’s name for one day would be “Jam!lton,” Brandow told the Journal-News he loved the setting of RiversEdge.

“It’s a beautiful background and backdrop, the way the stage is set up,” he said..

The concert series is manned by volunteers. All the bands are paid for by sponsorships and private donations, including by the Hamilton Community Foundation. The Hamilton Parks Conservancy maintains the park, and, “We get so many positive comments from people who have never been there before, just blown away by how clean it is, and the volunteers are so nice,” Helms said.

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