When he started in roughly 1991, believe it or not, Portsmouth River Days had never featured a rock band.
“My first year, the entertainment was already booked. And it was, as always, country,” said Timothy Angel, who just wrapped up his 24th and final year as chair of the River Days committee. If you just did the math in your head and are thinking 24 years doesn’t stretch back to 1991, you are correct. Angel did not serve 24 consecutive years as River Days chairman but took a four year hiatus and was asked back what he estimated was four or five years ago.
In his second year as chairman, Angel said he and the board wanted to try something different which included rock.
“And that year, for whatever reason, things fell together very easily,” Angel continued.
The first band to rock River Days? Kansas, whose appearance cost $17,500.
“That was a lot of money for us… And the prices have just continued to escalate, which has made it more and more difficult for us in terms of entertainment.”
Blue Oyster Cult, one of the headliners of the most recent festival, earned $37,500 for their appearance. Sound, lights and so on are all extra.
Angel said people constantly ask him why River Days can’t have more big-name acts. He said it all comes back to one simple thing: cost. For example, Angel checked into bringing Aerosmith to Portsmouth. The band’s management stated they would entertain offers beginning at $1 million.
Even setting aside burgeoning entertainment costs, Angel stated just funding the festival in general has become more and more difficult. Costs have gone up, while attendance has dropped along with donations.
“It’s just becoming more and more difficult for community festivals to finance themselves.”
Angel added the fact River Days always has run over a period of days only makes the situation even more problematic.
“But we do it and Portsmouth seems to respond to it very well.”
Angel said for some acts to appear over the years proved more memorable than others. His absolute favorite was Starship who appeared on the shore of the Ohio River twice. He also greatly enjoyed bringing in and meeting Percy Sledge.
“He was a great guy to work with, very, very friendly.” Angel also had complementary words for the members of Confederate Railroad, who just made what Angel believes is their second or third appearance at River Days. Angel also always enjoyed working with the many regional acts making appearances.
“They are always happy to play, always happy just to be here.”
Is there any act Angel was especially pleased with being able to bring to Portsmouth? The answer is the country rock band .38 Special. With the Kentucky Headhunters as an opening act, Angel said they attracted easily the biggest crowd he’s ever seen for festival entertainment.
“You could not move on the riverfront. The police came over and said, ‘What are we going to do if something breaks out on the riverfront?‘ I told him, ‘Don’t worry about it. If something happens, let them fight it out. They’ll never hit the ground. There’s no place for them to fall.’”
What has been the best part of working with the festival committee for nearly a quarter of a century? Angel doesn’t hesitate.
“The people… Being the longest sitting chair, I’ve seen lots of people come and go. I’ve worked with all different kinds of people and have made great friends with members of the committee. And by that, I mean, lifetime friends. These are people I will see long after I’ve left the committee.”
The biggest headache?
“Worrying about raising the money… All of the money is plowed back immediately into the festival. So, every time, you’re starting all over again. You’re booking acts, and then going to look for the money to pay for them… not the other way around.”
Another frustrating area for the committee Angel said always has been bringing in rides. Angel said bigger ride contractors don’t necessarily like coming to Portsmouth on a holiday weekend when they can find bigger crowds, meaning bigger money, elsewhere.
Over the years, Angel did not have much directly to do with running the River Days parade or the River Days pageant, certainly two of the bigger parts of the festival. Instead, Angel said the two heads of those committees essentially run those shows, so to speak.
“And there are a lot of moving parts to both of those.”
Angel added there is absolutely no truth to rumors the parade and the pageant are about to disappear from the yearly festival because of a lack of coordinators at the top.
What made Angel decide now is the time to move on?
Although just a few months ago he changed the direction of his day-to-day career, taking over as vice president of Hill View Rtirement Center where he eventually will become president and CEO, Angel stated it’s time for him to start slowing down a bit. He said “ironically,” he was born the same year as the festival, 57 years ago.
Angel previously was a professor of healthcare administration at Shawnee State University, a position from which he is now retired. He remains a local entrepreneur, running and owning Patsy’s Inn and Jet’s Gourmet Popcorn, named for his adopted son. He is further involved in his church and the community in numerous other capacities. Again, returning to the festival, Angel said now just seemed the time for him to step away.
“Sometimes you’ve got to have new ideas. It’s time for somebody else to do it.”
Angel had nothing but praise for the still burgeoning community group Friends of Portsmouth, whom the River Days committee invited to help share in running the festival this year and who Angel sees as having a big part in future River Days. No one is paid for their participation with the festival committee.
“The people who have done this did so for the love of the community.”
Angel added a belief the Friends group acts with the same motivations. And although the committee is about to lose Angel and at least two other long-standing members, there still will be plenty of old guard on hand to help guide the new folks forward.
As for Angel, he is proud and happy regarding his many years with River Days.
“It’s been a nice long run. I have absolutely no regrets.”
Reach Tom Corrigan at (740) 370-0715. © 2019 Portsmouth Daily Times, all rights reserved.