Apex Manager Kristina Smith

Kristina Smith, general manager of the APEX Center, says she is up for the challenge of running the facility, which kicked off an August concert series Aug. 3.

The Appalachian Regional Exposition Center launched a concert series, Summer Sounds @ 6, on Aug. 3. This Sunday, Aug. 11, will feature Adam McPeak and Mountain Thunder playing bluegrass and gospel. Concerts will be held every Sunday in August. They begin at 6 p.m. and tickets are $6.

The concerts are a way for the community to enjoy a Sunday evening and get a look at the APEX Center, which opened about six months ago, said Kristina Smith, the center’s general manager.

Smith has been on the job about three months, and admits running the facility and handling bookings, many of them agriculture-based, is a world away from her previous job as the event manager at the fancier Berglund Center in Roanoke.

“But I wanted the challenge,” she said, adding that she knew the job was controversial when she accepted it.

“It’s a lightning rod, for sure,” she said. “But I’m up to it as long as the county and people are open and give me a chance. I am in a position of high trust and responsibility, and I do not take that lightly in any way, shape or form. I want to get the building where it needs to go. Anyone who has questions, I am more than ready to answer. I need a fighting chance to get there; it’s only been three months.”

Just say the words Apex Center and most people have a reaction. Some people think it will be a boon to the economy and increase the tax base when hotels and restaurants pop up around it. Others say it will never turn a profit and costs taxpayers too much money.

Smith believes the “sky is the limit,” for what the APEX Center can bring to the area. Right now, she is working on 20 contracts, hoping to lure events to the center. And just a few weeks ago, a group raised $30,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital through a weekend rodeo.

People talk about concerts and agriculture events at the center, but one plus for civic groups is the ability to hold fundraisers at the facility, Smith said.

“Civic groups can raise money, and I have event experience and can help,” she said. “I can advise them and help them creatively. That opportunity exists for any group. There are ways to partner to make the center an asset for the county, and that is what I want to do.”

Smith said the event industry is “insane” with lots of moving parts and thousands of emails. Hers will never be a 9-to-5 job. Regardless, she said she has a large responsibility to county leaders and to “everyone in this county” to properly manage the Apex Center.

Smith said she and her staff work with customer satisfaction in mind. Customers want their experience at the center to be easy, accessible and affordable, and they want to have a good time, she said.

Operations Manager Manny O’Neal also came from the Berglund Center. He deals with setups, break downs, installations and equipment management at the center. He is also in charge of housekeeping and maintenance.

The center’s office manager is Jenna Lewis, who previously worked at Fort Chiswell High School. She runs the office, handles phone calls and is the first point of contact for promoters.

Smith said the APEX calendar will run similar to the school calendar – less busy in the summer with a build up in the fall, winter and spring, only to wind down again when warm weather arrives. When the proposed barn is built at the APEX site, more groups will use the center in the summer, she added.

When an event is scheduled, Smith and her staff work their to-do list backward from the event date to combat any negative experiences the production might have. So when the day arrives, the center is ready.

“It’s like an onion, we peel away layers to the core to see what works, best,” she said, adding that she never puts an event on the APEX calendar until the contract is signed because she doesn’t want to disappoint the public or the promoter if negotiations don’t work out.

Smith said she is working on a data base of information about potential events, productions and musical acts. Some bands prefer local talent for an opening act, so she wants to build up a list of local contacts, too.

The type of concerts the center will attract depend on how much money the artist must the guaranteed. That price does not include staffing and other needs, Smith said, adding that the center is a venue for small musical acts, not large ones.

Smith is determined that every group that books the center has a happy experience and that customers enjoy the events. Because with every successful event and concert, word about the APEX Center will spread and build momentum, increasing business, she said.

“We need to get some small events behind us, so people start talking and spread the word within the industry,” she said. “We want to start slow and local to get on the radar of promoters and artists and the community.”

Every event is different and requires a different setup. Preparing the center’s floor is always a major undertaking – some groups want a certain type of dirt floor, others want the dirt packed, still others want a tarp over the floor.

“We have to maneuver it certain ways,” Smith said. “No rocks for horses, but sheep and goats don’t mind rocks.”

Smith said the center can always use volunteers for all sorts of jobs, from preparing the dirt floor to pushing a broom.

“We will take volunteers any day,” she said. “They would be a lifesaver for me right now.”

Regarding the Sunday Summer Sounds @ 6 concerts this month, the schedule looks like this:

• Aug. 11 - Local artist Adam McPeak and his band, Mountain Thunder, from Fort Chiswell. Adam has been playing music for more than 15 years and while known for his mandolin skills, he also plays banjo, guitar, and bass.

• Aug. 18 - Phlegar Hill. With its southern, soulful sound the group has amassed a following of devoted fans.

• Aug. 25 – As We Are, with energetic and uplifting music. Hanging Haman is the opening act.

“We are all in this boat together to learn and see what happens,” Smith said. “I have big plans; it’s a 5-year plan.”

For information about the APEX Center, visit online at www.apexcenter.org, or call 276.335.APEX (2739).

To reach reporter Millie Rothrock, call 276-228-6611, ext. 35, or email mrothrock@wythenews.com.

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