HomeBusinessA decade later, Exum’s vision of The AMP has come true

A decade later, Exum’s vision of The AMP has come true

This year marks the 11th year of the existence of The AMP in Downtown Jackson and the 10th year for the facility to host the annual summer series The AMP at the Market.

As Downtown Jackson has resurged over the last decade or so, the establishment of a municipal outdoor entertainment venue is one event that has brought people back downtown.

Jimmy Exum and Jerry Gay are two men who spurred the process forward to make it happen, and it wasn’t an easy process.

“I remember one Saturday morning, my wife and I go down to the Farmer’s Market to get a donut and a few other things, and I look over and I see Jimmy,” Gay said when asked about how The AMP came about. “Back then, the land where The AMP is now was just almost a ditch, and there was a concrete slab sitting in the middle of it, and there’s Jimmy just sitting out there. By himself. Just staring at what I thought was nothing.”

Gay got hit donut and went over and approached Exum and asked him what was he doing.

“I sat down next to him and asked him, and he looked through that area there and said, ‘If you think about it, this would be a great place for an amphitheater,’” Gay said. “And I said, ‘Yeah I guess it could. Is that why you’re sitting out here on this concrete slab?’

“He said, ‘Yeah. And I’m glad you’re here, because I was hoping you might help make it happen.’”

And from there in what Exum and Gay guessed was 2011 or 2012, the effort to bring The AMP into existence began. Exum and Gay got a few other potential people involved to put a group together to approach the city about the possibility.

The group’s first meeting with then-Jackson Mayor Jerry Gist went OK.

“He liked the idea when I sold it to him as an improvement of quality of life for everyone in Jackson,” Exum said. “Because that’s one thing I pushed for was for as many of the events that happen here to be free events, and this concert series is one of them.

“So no matter what walk of life you’re from, you can come out and enjoy some music on a Friday night in the spring or summer or early fall with at least a couple thousand other people.”

The plot of land itself was owned by the City. The building that now houses the offices for the West Tennessee Farmer’s Market and The AMP was the gas department, and the land behind it had recently been cleared of toxic waste that had built up from having stored coal on the premises.

Physically building the area that is The AMP wasn’t a huge an ordeal as it could’ve been. The natural topography of the area between Union Avenue and New Market Street and the old Jackson Sun building lent itself to an amphitheater, but it needed some polishing in a few spots.

The City donated some dirt, as did Jackson Energy Authority from a few projects they had going on. Local developer Hal Crocker also donated some dirt from the construction of the Jackson Walk that was being built a couple blocks away.

“We filled in a ditch that was in the middle of it and put a gentler slope that was needed in some places,” Exum said.

A couple years after The AMP opened, they added more dirt on the northern end at the top of the plateau area near the creek that is the border for the location to soften that slope and give any kids that might want to get away from the concert and play a place to do that.

Once the stage was built, electricity had not been permanently been installed in the facility, and that took an entire crew of people – that included Exum and Gay – to physically install miles of wiring before any concert.

The first time they hosted a concert for The AMP at the Market, they did it themselves, starting at noon for a 7:30 p.m. start time and working until nearly 1 a.m. after the concert ended at 9.

“After that first concert we hosted, Jimmy called me the next day and asked me what I thought,” Gay said laughing. “And I told him I thought if we didn’t get some help, I was going to quit real soon because I was getting too old for this.”

But they did get help from the City, from sponsors, from others who simply wanted The AMP to succeed and wanted it to become an asset to Jackson.

“The AMP is a city facility, but fortunately we’re able to put together this concert series every year,” Exum said. “And it works because of everyone that’s involved – especially the sponsors and volunteers.

“We started this thing officially 10 years ago, and when you look at the sponsor list for this year’s series, there aren’t many new sponsors on there. I think there are three. But for the most part, the group of sponsors we had in 2014 is mostly who we’ve had every year since. They’re the ones that pay the acts who come and perform, so they and the volunteers are the ones that make it happen.”

This year’s series got its start on April 26 when Marcus Scott took the stage.

About 12 hours before, lawn chairs were already put out on the grass as fans marked their spot for the concert.

“There are a number of people you can pretty much count on to be there, and they’ll usually be in about the same spot,” said Chris Allison, who was one of those volunteers recruited to help make the concerts go smoother each night as well as being one of the annual sponsors with Allison Insurance Group.

Crowds are typically between 2,000 and 3,000 for a concert. The largest one was in 2018 when Toyota did a special celebration of their 15th anniversary in Jackson when Brandon Lay performed after having toured with country music superstar Kenny Chesney earlier that year. An estimated 7,000 people was on hand for that one with people packed in all the way through the adjacent park to Lafayette Street.

There have been a few changes over the years. Electricity is now run underground to the stage area, so there’s nowhere near as much setup work to be done as there was a decade ago. There’s a wooden platform that was built a few years back that’s the area for the sponsor each week to enjoy the concert from.

There are usually one or two food trucks available near The AMP and a handful of restaurants within walking distance if no trucks are present.

“I think it’s working out well,” Exum said. “People can come to the concert for free and enjoy 90 minutes without a break of music, and I think that’s a sweet spot.

“You get to 7:30 in the evening, that’s a nice time to come out and enjoy a concert, and it’s over by 9, which is getting close to bed time for some folks and for others, if they want to stay out and go somewhere else, then they’ve got plenty of time to do that.

“We’re glad the people of Jackson have this available to them as something to do without having to get out to Memphis or Nashville or somewhere else to go do it.”

Brandon Shields, brandon@jacksonpost.news

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