Hosts of the summer’s annual Castleton Festival are now allowed to increase the seating capacity for their classical music and opera events by more than 60 percent. Permission was granted by the Rappahannock County Board of Supervisors Monday night.
Seating at Castleton’s now semi-permanent Festival Tent, on the grounds of Lorin and Dietlinde Maazel’s 550-acre Castleton Farm off Hope Hill Road, was increased just last year from 200 to 400; this amendment to the Playhouse Corporation’s permit, approved unanimously by the supervisors after the Planning Commission recommended approval at its January meeting, increases the capacity to 650.
Attorney Douglas Baumgardner, representing the festival and the Maazels before the supervisors, cited two reasons for the request. First, he said, the Maazels discovered the structure’s actual capacity is closer to 650 – following last year’s successful 25-day season with July and August performances at the farm’s permanent 200-seat Theatre House as well as the larger tent-topped concert hall, which had been outfitted last year with straight-on, bleacher-like seating.
Moreoever, he said, a larger, wraparound seat configuration would allow Castleton to offer more varied ticket prices – some seats, Dietlinde Maazel said before the supervisors’ evening hearing, could cost as little as $20. Ticket prices at last year’s event, not including fundraising events, varied from $45 to close to $100.
“It is hoped this would bring in a more diverse crowd, by offering something more affordable,” Baumgardner said.
The Maazels agreed to the permit-approval conditions, recommended by the commissioners, which included: working closely with the sheriff’s office on managing traffic for the event, which might coincide with Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) reconstruction of the Battle Run bridge on Route 729, the major route for concertgoers from U.S. 211; reimbursement to the county for any festival-related expenses incurred by the sheriff’s office; better signage and driving instructions for ticket-holders; creating an emergency-management plan; no alcohol permitted at the events (except what is sold at in-house concessions); a review in three years of traffic; and making a start on upgrading the Theatre House to current building code safety standards for a commercial theater (which was originally approved as a residential structure).
Though none in the small crowd rose to speak at the hearing except Baumgardner, several supervisors remarked on the festival’s beneficial economic and artistic effects for the county. Hampton district’s Bryant Lee and Stonewall-Hawthorne’s Chris Parrish also asked that the traffic plan to be worked out with the sheriff include personnel stationed in strategic spots – especially if the Route 729 project falls within the Castleton season. Jackson district supervisor Ron Frazier suggested “live bodies” in addition to signage would work best, and suggested having someone at the Forest Grove School in Viewtown.
“It’s a wonderful thing to have this quality of music in our own backyard,” noted Parrish, who said he also wanted to be sure that the county would be reimbursed for any sheriff’s office expenses. Baumgardner pointed out that this condition was “self-imposed” by the applicants.
“I think this is a great thing for Rappahannock County,” Lee said. “It gets people out to Rappahannock, gets them to spend in Rappahannock – and then they go back home.”
“I attended several performances last year,” said chairman Roger Welch, “ and I was a little bit surprised by what I thought was moderate traffic. I drove straight in, and drove straight out. And I agree that this is a good thing for Rappahannock.”