Virginia couple returns from Music City with a dream
By: By JUSTIN FAULCONER The News & Advance
MONETA, Va. (AP) — When Holly Sweet plays CDs in her car, she daydreams that she is at the Sweetwater and there is a show. It could be a little bit country, a little bit rock ’n’ roll and maybe even have a touch of soul.
“All of them are perfect,” said Sweet, a Bedford County native.
Sweet and husband Darrin Snyder of Franklin County have spent two years planning a 7,000-seat outdoor arena in Moneta called Sweetwater Amphitheater.
The couple launched the plan in Nashville, where they spent the past decade pursuing music careers, and formed Sweetwater Entertainment Group Inc. to create the private facility.
After securing management and investment partners, their vision picked up steam this spring when Bedford County supervisors approved rezoning for 40 acres off Virginia 122 near Hendricks Store Road, where the venue will locate.
Sweet and Snyder recently moved back to the area from Tennessee to finally work side by side after solo careers in the music industry.
The best part, they said, is that they are doing it close to their roots.
“This is what our lives have been driving to, to come home and build something like this,” said Sweet. “This is us creating something we think will benefit ourselves and the community, and it’s something we can do together, which was always the original plan.”
Public support for the venue was positive in March and April when Bedford County planners and supervisors reviewed it.
A supervisor said on April 9, the evening the rezoning passed, that it was good for the county to have the project on its side of the Hales Ford Bridge rather than the Franklin County side.
“This is going to be, I think, a jewel in what we’re trying to promote in Bedford County,” Supervisor John Sharp said.
There was a concern raised about alcohol, and the couple vowed to closely monitor alcohol sales and keep problems to a minimum. They also said steps would be taken to ensure that neighbors would not be adversely affected by traffic, lighting and noise.
Major goals for the venue are to boost entertainment at Smith Mountain Lake and provide more music opportunities for the area.
“We’ve grown up in an area where there’s a lot of talent but not a lot of opportunity,” said Snyder. “This is one of those few opportunities to give back.”
From age 4 until she was a teenager, Sweet sang in her family band that played churches and social clubs. She said it prepared her for a life spent entertaining.
Snyder grew up drumming and took an interest in music when his older brother started playing guitar in a Southern gospel band.
Snyder’s dad was a Franklin County pastor and Sweet sang in his church when they were children, though they officially met many years later as young adults.
By then, Sweet was a Nashville booking agent and sang in a band called White Horse, while Snyder worked for an audio company. Ten years ago, they married and made Nashville their home. They decided to go for their dreams with just $300 in their pockets.
“I look back and say ’crazy kids,”’ said Sweet. “I remember the first apartment, looking around and thinking, ‘What have we done?”’
There were initial challenges and setbacks, but they remained determined and eventually found their separate niches in the music industry.
As a sound engineer, Snyder toured with various artists and spent six years on the road with singer Darryl Worley.
Sweet sang and recorded at a bar in downtown Nashville that attracts some high-profile singers and musicians. She called the atmosphere “electric” and said it was where she spent three of the best years of her life.
“I performed with some of the best musicians in that town,” she said. “In a lot of ways, that’s more important to me because these guys played for the joy of music, not for the love of money.”
But as good a time as they were having, their hearts never left Virginia. They missed family, friends and the scenery.
“It just feels right here,” said Snyder. “Southwest Virginia will always be home.”
They had scoped out several properties and found what they wanted when Sweet’s father informed her about the site off Virginia 122. After walking it, the couple looked at each other and said, “This is it.”
Snyder said outdoor gigs are among his favorite because of the “vibe” they create.
“There’s just an openness that makes you part of the show,” said Snyder.
Though the amphitheater is still in the planning stages, Sweet said they hope to debut in July, when the first part of construction is targeted for completion. The second phase, she said, likely would take place during next fall and winter.
The couple plan to use their business and music contacts to attract well-known artists and create a variety of quality entertainment that even the performers would look forward to.
“People are going to know who they are,” said Snyder. “The artists, when they see Sweetwater come up on their calendar, are going to be excited about it.”
A full season would run from April to October and include 30 shows. The venue also could be used for drama, gatherings and youth conferences.
It’s not an “if you build it, they will come” attitude, Sweet said.
“Attracting people to the Sweetwater is not the challenge,” said Sweet. “It’s making it such a great experience that they want to come back.”
The couple said they are committed to managing and operating the facility for the next 20 to 30 years.
“We want to be living and breathing Sweetwater,” Sweet said. “Maybe we’ll have a couple of kids to pass it on to. We’ll see.”
The News & Advance is published in Lynchburg, Va.
Information from: The News & Advance, http://www.newsadvance.com/
Published in The Messenger 1.2.08