Every seven years or so (accounting, of course, for Leap Year adjustments), the Fourth of July falls on a Thursday.

And that means the people who plan the city of Albany's River Rhythms concert series need to prepare for a bigger-than-usual crowd on those days, for a simple reason: Those concerts, the ones that fall on a Thursday, July 4, usually end with a fireworks show. 

So the staff members at the Albany Parks & Recreation Department, the branch of city government that puts on River Rhythms, are gearing up for a bang-up start to this year's series, which begins today with a concert by the group Baha Men (best known for the hit "Who Let the Dogs Out?"). 

It all begs a question, though: Since the first concert of the River Rhythms season usually falls around July 4, why not always have a fireworks show at the opener?

It's primarily a function of cost, explained Lynne Smith, the department's event and program coordinator, and some of the other department staffers who organize the series each year. This year's fireworks show, for example, comes with a price tag of $13,000; much of that cost has been offset by a $10,000 sponsorship from the Toyota Corp., but in an era when government operations need to watch expenditures carefully, that money can be hard to raise. (Western Display of Portland is producing this year's show.)

Also, the weather hasn't cooperated in previous years, as tinder-dry conditions in early July have led to a risk of fireworks-sparked blazes and the cancellation of other displays. (The cooler weather of early July has been a blessing in that regard, and the weather for Thursday night's show should be just about perfect, with clear skies and temperatures in the low 70s expected at 9 p.m.)

Fireworks aside, Smith and her colleagues face the challenge every year of booking River Rhythms and the unenviable task of trying to offer something to please almost everyone. 

The process starts almost a year ahead of time as planners, working with a promoter based out of Salem, put together a wish list of performers.

The promoter gets a look at the wish list and this first reaction is common, Smith said: "He usually laughs at us because they're people we can't afford."

So the pencils come out, and planners continue the task of building a roster that allows them to stay within their budget for talent. (That budget — which also has to fund entertainment for the Northwest Art & Air Festival and the Summer Sounds series — is about $210,000, and a good portion of that is covered by sponsorships.)

Because it's unlikely that an artist is going to make a trip just to perform at a River Rhythms concert, the planners also have to find artists who are on tour and in the Northwest during the summer: The idea is to get these musicians to play an additional show on a weekday night.

At the same time, Smith said, the planners have to ensure that the concerts offer a good mix of musical genres, and they're trying to get a certain blend — some pop, some oldies, some country, some rock 'n' roll. That adds complexity to the chore, she said: "If we were going to go for all country performances, it would be a lot easier."

Crowds at the River Rhythms shows have grown consistently over the last three decades (this year's series is the 36th). A typical River Rhythms show will draw about 10,000 or so people, but fireworks (or a relatively big name) will increase that turnout. Shows featuring artists like The Dixie Chicks, Sugarland, Andy Grammer and Uncle Kracker have drawn 16,000 to 18,000 people and have stretched the limits of Monteith Riverpark.

But that's a good problem to have. And people in the crowds share a common trait, Smith said: "There's a genuine love for this community. They want a good quality of life."

And that quality of life includes the chance to listen to music for free, stretched out on the banks of the Willamette River on a summer evening. 


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