Remember the scene in Jaws, when the men hunting the killer shark realized the size of their quarry and said "We're gonna need a bigger boat"?
My first thought upon arriving at the free Augusta Symphony concert Saturday was: We're gonna need a bigger amphitheater.
Thanks to University Hospital, the Symphony wrapped up its season with a free concert on the lawn of the hospital's Evans property. I expected a few hundred patrons to show up, but most estimates put the crowd at more than 2,000.
The show, from the Lakeside Wind Ensemble to the Symphony to Eryn Eubanks and the Family Fold, was incredible. And it held a couple of lessons:
First, that amphitheater. County Commission Chairman Ron Cross, who had to be out of town and couldn't make the symphony show, says the county's outdoor arena being built behind the new library is designed to seat about 500 people, with a couple hundred more in overflow areas.
With a 300-seat performing arts center being built on the other side of the library, it's pretty clear the county's venues are too small. (In fact, with private funds, Augusta Prep is building its own performing arts center -- with 350 seats.)
The county's biggest venue, then, for any performances will be the Doctors Hospital field, being purchased by the county. It will be vitally important that this urban jewel be kept as wide open as possible to allow larger, festival-style crowds such as those that would gladly greet another Symphony visit.
Second, we need Augusta. As much as we like to brag about Columbia County's growing independence, Augusta is still the area's cultural center.
The city has the symphony, and the opera, and other major, professional performing arts components, as well as the big museums. Our arts community is growing, but we still will look to Augusta for much of our cultural enrichment. And with the possibility of a new arena being built in Augusta and not here, we'll need to keep a relationship with our eastern neighbor.
Columbia County is a wonderful place to come home to after visiting the city. But we're not an island. That's important to remember when some folks try to tell us we can do it all on our own. We can't, and unless they squeeze taxpayers even harder, we won't.
Smoke free at last
En route to signing Georgia's Smokefree Air Act Monday, Gov. Sonny Perdue also signed a bill that designates Oct. 8 as Bill Elliott Day in Georgia.
The state's on a NASCAR roll, I suppose. Perdue recently designated April 29 as Dale Earnhardt Day.
NASCAR booted out its cigarette sponsor two years ago, so it's fitting that the governor would recognize a NASCAR driver the same day he booted cigarettes out of restaurants.
One thing about that ban: I had been under the impression that it didn't exempt private clubs; it does. So members of the American Legion can still smoke 'em if they've got 'em.
The statewide ban also brings conformity to Columbia County. Harlem and Grovetown opposed the county ban, but will go smoke-free when the state ban takes effect July 1.
Columbia County deserves credit for enacting its own law and defending it in court. Meanwhile, Richmond County's wimpy commissioners are rewarded for their delay.
One provision in the state ban will force an interesting choice in Augusta. Businesses that restrict access to those 18 or older can continue to allow smoking. They'll have to decide whose money is greener: smokers or families.
That's not an option in Columbia County. The state law allows stricter local laws, and Columbia County doesn't allow smoking in any restaurants. And the county doesn't allow bars.
Don't worry, nicotine addicts: You can still feed your back-monkey at home, or in South Carolina.
(Barry L. Paschal is publisher of The Columbia County News-Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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