2015-07-09 / Around Town

Water Show Gets Wet Reviews

By Barry Bridges

The water, light and laser show held on the North Lawn of Fort Adams on Friday, July 3, left some Newport officials feeling high and dry.

The “Fort Aqua” event was billed as a “revolutionary water celebration” featuring “3-D floating water holograms, massive screens of water, and towering fountains” along with lights, lasers, and fireworks. Organizers brought in food vendors and set up a beer garden, while local bands also provided entertainment.

But some local officials were less-than-wowed with how things turned out. Third Ward Councilor Kathryn Leonard told Newport This Week that the crowd was not under control despite at least eight police officers and two DEM officers on the premises. “There were lots of underage kids and it was chaos,” she lamented.

Councilor John Florez was similarly unimpressed. “I talked to the city administration, and while there are no actual police reports that reflect arrests, the promoter certainly misrepresented what the event was all about. It was a big drink-fest. This was not ‘family entertainment’ as we had been led to believe. I am thoroughly disappointed.”

“This is not something that I will support in the future,” he added.

Councilors carefully weighed the application of Aqua, LLC, when one of its co-founders, Patrick Brown, appeared at a meeting on June 10 seeking the necessary licensing for the water and laser show. At the time, Leonard questioned Brown on the number of attendees expected and whether safety issues were being properly addressed.

Brown responded that his company was expecting between 1,000 and 1,500 guests considering the short three-week timeframe available for advertising and promotion. “We’ll be hiring security and will be counting the number of people who go in and out,” he reported. He also highlighted his experience with producing the show elsewhere, noting that it had been touring.

Leonard also wanted to know if the police and fire chiefs had been consulted on “all segments of public safety so that we’re all comfortable in saying that what you are doing will be a safe environment.” Interim City Manager Joseph Nicholson confirmed that Brown had met with appropriate police and fire officials and that they “passed muster on it and are comfortable with the event.”

After councilors questioned Brown to their satisfaction, the license was OK’d on a unanimous 7-0 vote.

Considering the Fort Adams location, other approvals had to be secured. In addition to the City Council, Brown had to make his case before the Fort Adams Trust, the Department of Environmental Management, and the State Properties Committee.

Ultimately, almost 2,500 attendees arrived at the fort for the festivities. Richard Nagele, executive director of the trust, offered his perspective. “We’re still going over things and haven’t yet had the chance to meet with the park manager, but it’s fair to say that the audience we expected was not the audience we got.”

Echoing the comments of Florez, Nagele continued, “During the presentations made to us, we were assured that the show would be appropriate for a state park and appropriate for Newport, but the crowd skewed younger. The bulk of attendees were between 18 and 21 years old. This had been held out more as an ‘arts event,’ where the focus would be on the light, water, and lasers.”

Nagele explained that bringing performances to Fort Adams is a balancing act. “While the mission of the trust is to support the fort as a historic site, we also have to present contemporary programming. Generally we strike the balance pretty well, but this event may be something we have to look at a little more closely for next year.”

Brown disagreed that the show was other than what was represented. In a telephone conversation with Newport This Week, he said, “This was a unique experience for Newport, and it went very well. Once we had the necessary approvals, we only had three weeks to advertise but sold out at 2,500. There were a variety of people in the audience, ranging from teenagers to 90-year-olds. It was a great crowd.” He also said that bands were chosen to provide a variety of music designed to appeal to the different age groups there.

“Everything was managed really well,” Brown continued. “Security was tight and we had good reports on crowd control. That being said, with this first event in Newport we learned a lot and, like anything in life, we learn from our mistakes. We hope that people will tell us how it can be made better.”

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