When the group Donna the Buffalo takes the stage at the Ponte Vedra Concert Hall on Dec. 29, it will conclude the busiest year of shows in the venue’s existence.
Located off of State Road A1A in a building that was once a church, the facility is on track to host 117 entertainment events in 2017. That’s almost 30 more than last year and more than twice as many as in 2014.
“This is certainly the busiest [it] has ever been,” said Dianya Markovits, director of marketing for the Concert Hall and the St. Augustine Amphitheatre.
The concert kall brings in all types of acts from well-known artists,ranging from Toad the Wet Sprocket and the Gin Blossoms to Mavis Staples, along with up-and-coming entertainers and niche acts.
Markovits said the venue staff has worked to build a reputation with audiences to bring a variety of quality performers that attract a wide range of tastes.
“Maybe they’re not as big as someone who would play at the amphitheatre, like a Paul Simon, but either they’re on their way to there or they’re on their way back from there,” Markovits said. “I think that people are starting to trust that whatever’s playing that night is going to be great.”
Ryan Murphy, general manager of the concert hall and St. Augustine Amphitheatre,y agreed with Markovits about the sentiment of concertgoers.
“More and more the reputation for the concert hall grows in the same way that the amphitheatre does,” Murphy said in an email. “And this is specific to the way we treat the artists, the great crowds and the level of professionalism that we offer.”
The concert hall received a great compliment earlier this year when singer Lucinda Williams listed the venue as one of her favorite places to play in a Facebook post.
Perhaps even more than with the amphitheatre, which holds about 4,000 spectators, the Concert Hall is in serious competition for acts and fans with other area venues. The concert hall seats 450 for shows with reserved tickets and about 900 for standing general admission setups.
A plan for adding a balcony that would bring an additional 400 seats is still in the conceptual stage.
There are a lot of places that can accommodate shows of that size, so Markovits said the concert hall has to stand out.
“It’s how close you are to the artist,” she said of the venue’s main appeal. “It’s kind of unparalleled. Just the proximity of the artist to the audience is what’s amazing for the fan.
“It may not be the prettiest and it definitely looks like a church, but with that comes some amazing acoustics that … I think the only complaint I have ever heard from fans is it’s too loud.”
There’s also the location that sets it apart. The concert hall is a relatively short but scenic drive for St. Augustine residents and maybe a 15-minute drive from Jacksonville Beach.
Unlike many concert halls of that size, it’s not in a true entertainment district with lots of late-night bars and restaurants. And it isn’t located in a particularly congested area, especially after the traditional rush hour.
Markovits said she’s talked to out-of-town patrons who choose shows at the concert hall — or the Amphitheatre — over bigger cities like Orlando because there’s less traffic and because they just enjoy the change.
“It’s just a different vibe in St. Augustine (and Ponte Vedra Beach), and that’s just because of the town in general,” she said. “If you want a different experience, this is where you’re going to get it.”
Richard Goldman, president and CEO of the St. Johns County visitors and convention bureau, said visitors are picking up on that vibe. He thinks the Concert Hall is just one more draw for those looking for something they can’t get at home.
“Fans of bands make their ticket commitments early and then plan their visit around the concert,” Goldman said. “Long term, the events held at the PVCH reinforce the cultural attractiveness of our destination with those who attend them as well as friends of those who attend when they hear about the concerts.”