(Rockford IceHogs photo)

Entertainment Options Grow in Downtown Rockford

RAVE is welcoming some of the best entertainment to Rockford, from big names to favorite local groups. Check out the lineup of plays, concerts, hockey games and more coming to the area.

(Rockford IceHogs photo)
(Rockford IceHogs photo)

Rockford-area residents can savor a rich lineup of events over the next few months, from hockey games, comedy acts and orchestral concerts to musicals, rock concerts and interactive kids’ shows, thanks to thoughtful planning by the Rockford Area Venues and Entertainment Authority (RAVE).
RAVE, previously known as MetroCentre Authority, is a board comprised of businessmen and women, lawyers and community leaders who volunteer their time to increase and enhance the entertainment opportunities in Rockford. RAVE operates three downtown venues: the BMO Harris Bank Center, the Coronado Performing Arts Center and Davis Park, in addition to managing the Rockford IceHogs.
“I think it’s critical that we have these venues to enhance the quality of life for the community,” says Craig Thomas, RAVE chairman. “Our goal is to be a catalyst for downtown activity and development.”

All Hail the IceHogs

February through May will be an active time for RAVE. With four events at BMO and 19 events at the Coronado, plus a packed season for the IceHogs hockey team, executive director and event manager Troy Flynn has his hands full.
“We plan six months out if we can,” Flynn says. “We’re booking summer and fall right now. But because our year ends in June, we have to lock up a few things to really maintain the status that we’ve got here. As soon as a show is done, I move on to the next one. That’s what we have to do to grow.”
Flynn is focused on Rockford IceHogs hockey games right now, as the postseason schedule looms. With regular-season games ending April 16, the ’Hogs have a strong likelihood of advancing to the playoffs this year for the second year in a row.
This means Flynn has to plan events carefully so he can efficiently turn BMO into a hockey rink.
“The challenges that the job presents are the fuel that keeps me interested,” Flynn says. “I know that professional bull riding on April 23 is going to be a good event here, so I have to be ready to get all of the dirt and cows out so I can flip the arena into a hockey rink. It’s challenging, but if we think it out critically and apply industry sense, we’ll be successful.”
The opportunity to work with the IceHogs helped to entice Flynn to join RAVE in June 2014. The ’Hogs are the top minor league affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks and have spent most of their season in first place in the American Hockey League’s Central Division.
Overall, the IceHogs have produced 84 National Hockey League players, 64 playing for the Blackhawks; 15 were members of last year’s Stanley Cup-winning team. Twelve players have crossed between the IceHogs and the Blackhawks this year.
“Those are great numbers,” Flynn says. “We’re pretty proud of that. And the ticket price is well below what you’d get for the same thing in Chicago. A family of four can easily spend $200 for tickets, parking and food at a Blackhawks game, but if you spend $200 on an IceHogs game, you’re walking out with all of that, a couple of sweatshirts, and you might actually own stock in the team by that point.”

More at BMO and the Coronado

Along with the IceHogs, BMO will host a variety of concerts and unique performances during the next few months. Country star Lee Brice takes the stage on Feb. 12; “Disney On Ice Presents Treasure Trove” commemorates the magic of Disney animated films with an ice show Feb. 25-28; Barry Manilow thanks fans at his “One Last Time” Tour March 26; gospel band Newsboys showcases a string of its iconic hits on April 22; and professional bull riding and barrel racing amps up the crowd on April 23. With 10,000 arena seats and 7,000 concert seats, BMO hosts the larger events that come to Rockford.
The ornately beautiful Coronado Performing Arts Center (CPAC) comfortably seats 2,300 people. Upcoming events range from Rockford Symphony Orchestra performances to head-banging classic rock concerts. RAVE’s diversity of events is a point of pride for Flynn.
“Our variety has been a very critical factor in our success and will continue to be in the future,” Flynn says. “We have events coming up that are not what we’ve seen here year after year, and you’re not going to have the same audience at each event.”
The February lineup at the Coronado includes “The Price is Right: Live” and Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s “Artists in the Spotlight” concert.
March brings nine events, including “1964… The Tribute,” a performance that celebrates the Beatles on March 4; Rockford Laugh-A-Thon with comedy legend Rickey Smiley on March 5; Rockford Coronado Concert Association’s Polish Baltic Philharmonic Orchestra on March 6; Shen Yun, a journey through 5,000 years of Chinese culture on March 11-12; Celtic Woman, a contemporary musical sensation honoring Ireland’s past on March 13; “Flashdance the Musical” on March 16; truTV Impractical Jokers starring The Tenderloins, a New-York-based comedy troupe, on March 18; “Peppa Pig Live,” an interactive children’s show on March 25; and Puscifer, a rock concert, on March 28.
April tops out with seven events, including Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s “Holiday Pops: The Magical Music of Disney” concert on April 2; “Menopause the Musical” on April 7; “Comedy Party” featuring Pauly Shore, Harland Williams, Tom Green and Bobby Lee on April 8; “In the Mood: 1940s Big Band Review” delighting fans of the Big Band era on April 12; comedian Michael Carbonaro on April 16; RCCA’s “Five Vocalists from the Ryan Center” concert on April 23; and Rockford Symphony Orchestra’s Tchaikovsky and Emily Bear concert on April 30.
“Ragtime the Musical” will dazzle crowds on May 4.
“In 2013 we had 72 programs by the end of December, in 2014 we had 82 programs and last year we had 87 programs,” Flynn says. “That increase shows that we’re pushing in the right direction.”

Future Goals

One of RAVE’s ultimate goals is to function self-sufficiently, meaning it would not rely upon tax subsidies. Flynn expects RAVE to reach this goal within the next few years.
“We want to reach a point that we’re able to live completely off of the programming and the IceHogs,” Flynn says. “We also want to continue being a driver for downtown local businesses and community engagement.”
RAVE sells about 50 percent of its tickets to Rockford-area residents, 25 percent to Chicagoland residents, and 25 percent to people who live in western and southern Illinois. This scope translates to a positive economic impact for Rockford, Flynn says.
RAVE chairmanThomas adds, “It still gets me excited when all the restaurants are full with people from both inside and outside the region, all coming to the community for an event. It’s satisfying to know that what we’re doing is great.”
As for the entertainment, Flynn plans to continue bringing a variety of events that engage people. In addition to benefiting Rockford economically, a richer cultural life is simply good for personal growth.

“You think a little bit differently from experiencing the arts,” Flynn says. “I think we have a very bright future. I think the opportunities to grow as an organization are great, and I just hope to continue to push the needle in the right direction.”