Sunday ushers in pay dates for Summer Pops at SouthPark

If you're one of those Summer Pops concertgoers who has always been annoyed about people going to SouthPark hours ahead of time and putting down blankets to claim prime spots, there's good news for you: That's pretty much over.

The end of the blanket parade is a byproduct of the Charlotte Symphony's decision to charge admission at SouthPark beginning Sunday.

After years of losing tens of thousands of dollars a week on the long-free concerts, the orchestra - which has been hobbled by deficits all the while - will charge $10 a ticket for adults. Admission will still be free for ages 18 and younger. Concerts at the other locations, which have sponsors, will remain free for everyone.

Since the orchestra announced the $10 charge, "the response has (generally) been very understanding," said Jonathan Martin, the orchestra's executive director. The orchestra's need to bring in more money is clear, he said, and concertgoers typically think "the ticket price is fair and reasonable."

Here's how the new setup at SouthPark will work:

The orchestra will set up temporary fencing with gates at three spots: the top of the slope, at the edge of the parking lot near Dick's Sporting Goods; at the bottom of the park near the Doubletree hotel; and where the sidewalk leads into the park from Barclay Downs Drive. Tickets will be on sale at all three gates.

Gates will open at 4 p.m. So that's the earliest that anyone can go in and put down a blanket. No longer can go-getters sneak in on Sunday morning.

The orchestra asks smokers to go outside the fenced area when they light up.

Other do's and don'ts remain the same. Pets aren't allowed. Grills aren't either. But picnic spreads are welcome.

In case of bad weather, the key issue will be whether the orchestra plays for 40 minutes. If the music is called off before that - or if the concert never starts - the orchestra will hand out $10 vouchers good for any Charlotte Symphony performance in the next year. After the 40-minute mark, the orchestra will consider it a full concert, and there will be no vouchers. Beyond that, it's up to Mother Nature.