Ten years into his stint as Tybee Island's staunchest cultural supporter and most productive volunteer, Richard Adams is focused on getting the old military post theater refurbished, up to scratch and useable.
A board member of the 501(c)(3) Friends of the Tybee Theater, Adams is encouraged and pleased that tickets for this week's Tybee Wine Festival — the 250-seat theater's largest fundraiser — have been selling well.
The festival, culminating in a snazzy wine-tasting fete outdoors on the Tybee Lighthouse grounds, is in its fifth year.
"There were a few people that didn't think it could be pulled off that first year, at a $40 ticket price," Adams explains. "The first year, it came off well, the second year it improved, and it's been improving every year. I think this year's gonna be better than it's ever been before."
When Adams began volunteering and helping with production and promotion work, it was 2003 and Tybee had ... a reputation. "Pirate Fest," he says, "the first year was a mess. It was a drunkfest. And it was still a drunkfest in 2006, when we started to develop it into a more family-friendly event."
Ten years has brought a lot of positive change.
"I've watched events that were improperly managed for years and years, and they continued to fail," Adams reports. "It doesn't take a lot to put on a good event, you just have to be consistent, and get the right people on board at the right prices."
Apparently, all is in place, because restoration of the Tybee Post Theater — the beneficiary of not only the Wine Festival but the Polar Plunge and several other massive public events — is proceeding. And, like clockwork, every turn around the calendar year brings more people to the fundraisers.
"I'm not taking credit for it," Adams is quick to add. "It's just one of those things that I was happy to be here when it happened.
"My vision, if there is one for me, is to make the events we do out here more family-friendly. Get away from old 'Redneck Riviera' feel of Tybee and bring it into something a bit more classy."
Surrounded by wining and fine dining events, the Tybee Wine Festival's "Grand Wine Tasting" has become the island's go-to gathering.
"It's a nice, well-done classy event," Adams says. "And I think it's way underpriced."
It's important, he stresses, to understand that Tybee Island, with its conspicuous lack of high-rise buildings and other developmental eyesores — likes the idea of "classy," but doesn't want to become, say, Hilton Head.
"I like to see a mix of people. The flavor of Tybee is really what's important to me more than anything else. You could tag the word 'quirky' on it; my feeling is I'd like the flavor of Tybee to remain the same as much as we can as it develops through the next 20 years."
The multi-purpose theater, which could open on a limited basis as early as this fall, will definitely be a part of that. A past president of the Tybee Arts Association, and a current board member, Adams has high hopes that the refurbished venue will benefit not just Tybee residents, but pretty much everybody else.
"This is just my opinion: it's got to stay open," he insists. "It's got to make money. It's not going be there just as a community theater. We'll get shows in from the local theater, but I think in order to pay the bills that's just not going to be enough to do it.
"The first few years are critical to that theater. Once those doors open, to keep it open. We have to look at corporates as well — bring weekend retreats in here, seminars on the weekends. They'll bring their families here, they'll stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants, drink in the bars. That's what's going to help pay the bills."