Summer of music
Jackson ‘thoroughly saturated’ with live shows as free concerts affect ticket sales.
By Brielle Schaeffer, Jackson Hole, Wyo.
August 29, 2012
Michael Moeri was excited about only one concert in Jackson last summer: Denver-based indie group Paper Bird at the Town Square Tavern.
This summer, the music director at KHOL community radio was thrilled about several high-caliber bands coming to town. Moeri ended up seeing about a dozen concerts and most of them were free.
“There were a couple instances of overlap, but all the shows I wanted to see I pretty much saw,” Moeri said. Band of Horses, Justin Townes Earle, Blitzen Trapper and March Fourth Marching Band were among the highlights, he said.
Live music in Jackson Hole exploded in the last two months in quantity and quality. The staples — Grand Teton Music Festival, Concerts on the Commons at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, festivals at Grand Targhee Resort and Music on Main in Victor, Idaho — had lots of competition.
This summer saw the inaugural JacksonHoleLive free, outdoor music series at the base of Snow King. It also was the first summer season for the reopened Pink Garter Theatre and the inaugural Teton Artlab’s Caldera Festival.
The boom of free, live music affected venues differently. While the Center for the Arts had high attendance at its summer concerts, Grand Teton Music Festival and the Pink Garter Theatre saw a drain.
“There’s no doubt that the amount of free concerts out there will hurt ticket sales. That’s just proven through time,” Pink Garter Theatre owner and promoter Dom Gagliardi said. “We saw that quite a bit at the Pink Garter, and it was generally shows in the mid-range, bands below $20. ... It’s hard to get that cover out of people, because they could go see up-and-coming to big-name bands for free.”
The three free concert series in Jackson and Teton Valley, Idaho, hosted 20 shows since the end of June. That’s a live concert every three days this summer at least, Pink Garter Theatre promoter Matt Donovan said.
“Free shows are now directly competing with each other, and that starts to dilute things quickly,” Donovan said.
The Pink Garter offered several free shows, too.
“We had to experiment with this to see if offering free events would draw better than paid, ticketed events,” Donovan said. “Turns out that we can’t even give shows away right now. The area is thoroughly saturated.”
This year’s breakout JacksonHoleLive concert series caters to a different crowd than other venues in town, event organizer Shannon McCormick said.
The series is for “families with kids that a) might not otherwise be able to afford shows, or b) can’t go to see some shows because they start at 10 p.m. and they’re in bars,” McCormick said. “There aren’t many opportunities for families to see live music, and we offer that opportunity.”
The series’ last show Sunday with the funky Robert Randolph and the Family Band drew more than 5,000 people to lounge, dance and listen to the tunes outside.
“We’re trying to make Jackson Hole a destination for music,” McCormick said. “The more of it the merrier.”
The Grand Teton Music Festival noticed a decrease in attendance on nights when JacksonHoleLive had shows, Mike Swanson, festival’s co-director of marketing, said.
“Our attendance was down from last year,” he said. “Our numbers were right at our numbers from the previous year. … We pretty much stayed on track, but there were definitely concerts we knew would be competing events.”
The competition is welcome, he said.
“It’s enriching the valley culturally, which is already a diverse area for being so small and so remote,” Swanson said.
For next season, festival staff will consider more target marketing and planning around competing events, he said.
Good planning was key for the Center for the Arts’ season, the center’s executive director, Cindee George, said
“We didn’t really see that it impacted us at the center at all,” she said, “mostly because they were scheduled on different nights.”
The center’s fundraiser concert of Emmylou Harris sold out. So did Kenny Loggins and tonight’s Ziggy Marley concert. Los Lobos, the center’s first outdoor show drew 700 people at $25 per ticket,.
“We were happy with that turnout,” George said.
Location and cheap covers helped promoters get crowds at Town Square Tavern.
“We’re on the square, and that’s a huge plus,” 307 Live promoter Harper Hollis said.
They also try to keep the cover at $5.
“An average tourist is willing to pay that,” he said, “and they leave a huge fan.”
If the charge is $10 or $15, customers turn around at the door, he said.
“It’s a tricky game catering to locals and tourists and what day of the week it is and what kind of music it is,” Hollis said. “This is by far the most music we’ve had this summer. People have been selective about where they go to and what they go see.”
The market has increased the quality of musical acts Jackson is able to attract, however.
“We’re really giving the music industry a lot more business, so we’re getting more attention from them that this is a legitimate market,” Gagliardi said. “More people are looking to this area to fill in gaps on their routing.”
The venue may slow down its bookings next summer, though.
“I think people will say this summer was the height of music,” he said. “There’s only so much business to be had.”