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June 15, 2022 News » Cover Story

MUSIC THERAPY 

Concert promoters bounce back from the pandemic to bring live performances to SLC.

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PHOTOGRAPHY BY TIMOTHY PRESTON
  • Photography by Timothy Preston

Undoubtedly, this news reached you at some point: the large-scale arrival of COVID-19 during March of 2020 changed the landscape for touring acts of all sizes and styles.

Your favorite band was likely off the road and streaming shows from a living room. Your favorite venue was dark, if not finally getting around to that subfloor problem behind the bar. Your favorite bartender, usually working atop that wavy subfloor, was launching an Etsy page. It all seems so long ago and yet...

The 2020 concert calendar was altered beyond recognition and 2021's was a hit/miss affair, as shows were back with restrictions, though cancellations were both frequent and untimely. Though COVID's complicated relationship to the American public remains a spiky and polarizing one, society's collective decision is that shows are (by and large) back in 2022. Utahns, already used to no small amount of shows taking place outdoors, likely adapted more quickly than fans in other regions.

But in 2022, venues and festivals and concert series are back. In a big way. City Weekly sent out the same questions to folks in the local concert-giving community and a small handful sent back some thoughtful responses. Our digital roundtable includes:

Ian Hiscock of V2 Presents - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Ian Hiscock of V2 Presents

Ian Hiscock—public relations manager and junior talent buyer for V2 Presents and the Das Energi Festival, where he works on PR, artist relations, talent buying and advancing.

Dan Radford, marketing director for Park City’s Egyptian Theatre - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Dan Radford, marketing director for Park City’s Egyptian Theatre

Dan Radford—marketing director of Park City's Egyptian Theatre Co., whose expansive role at the venue includes "creative direction on all things relating to shows, events and promotional communications."

Jordan Clements of JRC Events - COURTESY PHOTO: GROOVYLEX / INGRID BAYON
  • Courtesy Photo: Groovylex / Ingrid Bayon
  • Jordan Clements of JRC Events

Jordan Clements—owner of JRC Events, and who works in talent buying and promotion.

Vaughn Carrick, owner of Live Nite Events - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Vaughn Carrick, owner of Live Nite Events

Vaughn Carrick—owner of Live Nite Events and the Reggae Rise Up festival.

City Weekly: What were you working on when the pandemic hit? How complete were your spring and summer calendars?
Clements: I was working on booking and promoting shows for the rest of 2020, into 2021.
Hiscock: 2020 was looking to be our biggest year yet at V2 Presents. We were entering the week of a sold-out Lane 8 show at Sky SLC and a soon-to-be sold out 15th anniversary of Get Lucky Festival when things started to look grim. Beyond that, we had a whole slew of new concepts and events in the pipeline, the music scene was thriving and things were looking up.
Radford: I was not affiliated with the Egyptian Theatre at the time of the pandemic. I was a Broadway co-producer and live theater consultant when the pandemic started. I was working as a director for a theater in West Yellowstone, Montana. The Egyptian Theatre was fully booked and had to cancel several months of shows in 2020 as well as 2021. We were closed in March/April 2020 through September 2021.
Vaughn: When the restrictions on social gatherings were first implemented, we were nine days out from our largest festival (Reggae Rise Up Florida) with a sizable portion of our team already on site and beginning the build out. In addition to having to postpone RRU Florida, we had another festival in Vegas along with another 100+ shows at various venues in SLC that we also began canceling or postponing.

CW: Were there any particular moments that you remember as death-knells for the 2020 concert season?
Clements: I just started getting more and more emails about tours canceling due to the seriousness of the virus. As each week passed, more and more tours were canceling, and I began to realize that this was going to last for a while. I never thought it would be as long as it lasted, but here we are.
Hiscock: The moment that made us stop dead in our tracks, was when the news broke of Rudy Gobert of the Utah Jazz contracting COVID-19. The Jazz game that night was canceled, and it was then that we knew we were going to have to cancel that weekend's festival and halt all other operations for the time-being.
Vaughn: For us it was watching the NBA season go down, then Ultra Music Festival, and then Austin's South by Southwest being canceled. We knew we were in trouble.

CW: How did the 2021 season differ from 2020?
Clements: In 2021, I did a lot more events that were socially distant throughout the whole year, whereas 2020 was pretty much no events from March through July/August from what I recall.
Hiscock: The year 2021 was filled with optimism and hope, compared to the dreaded 2020 being so full of uncertainty. Even though 2021 began without a clear idea of where things would end up, we had high hopes that things would return back to normal by summertime. Thankfully, due to vaccines becoming more widely available, we were able to cautiously and carefully begin throwing low-cap shows again, and were happy that our community could feel safer about attending them. After such a stressful year for everyone, it was a great feeling to be able to get back to events, which act as a major stress-reliever and mental health enhancement for so many people.
Radford: Both were partial operating years—2021 was very different regarding post-COVID protocols and local health requirements. Limited capacity due to social distancing requirements, as well as masks.
Vaughn: The first half of the year was fairly similar to 2020, with the exception of a few socially distant shows we produced at Soundwell, primarily with local talent. Then, around June and July, it seemed it was off to the races with tours all trying to get out all across the country, and the market becoming flooded with shows. Fortunately, there was a pent-up demand among live music fans to support the unprecedented number of shows being crammed into six months. The real test for our team came in October when both festivals that we had previously postponed from 2020 were produced 10 days apart in two different markets (Florida and Las Vegas) due to venue availability.

The Egyptian Theatre on Park City’s Main Street has a full schedule of events this summer. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • The Egyptian Theatre on Park City’s Main Street has a full schedule of events this summer.

CW: What was actually doable and what was left unfulfilled during 2021?
Clements: It started looking more back to "normal" when I started hearing from agencies again, requesting dates in Salt Lake City for upcoming tours. It was just sort of like a domino effect, with more and more people starting to email/call me again.
Hiscock: There were so many ups and downs throughout 2020, from thinking that things would only last a few months, to then realizing that they could actually last a few years. Get Funky 2021 was our first festival back after the pandemic and was majorly made possible by the availability of vaccines. We also partnered with a company called Return Safe, who offered safety protocols and COVID-19 screening through an app, which increased our confidence going back into events. We were moving forward with cautious optimism, and things were looking up again. The biggest challenges at this point were the random and consistent new waves of variants, which threatened to shut things back down for us, more than once throughout the 2021 season.
Radford: We have a great amount of appreciation from our theater to one of our subscribing groups, called "Pharaohs." These memberships include VIP seating to all our shows and concerts, VIP Sundance Film Festival tickets, golf passes, fine dining certificates, ski passes, social events and various other benefits. Almost all of these had to be put on hold and even in 2021, we were unable to offer our nightly socials where we offer free drinks and a chance to mingle with other Pharaohs. This did impact our operation a bit, but we thankfully have some of the best donors and theater-subscribing bases in all of Utah. Because of the kind donations and continued memberships, we were able to stay employed and are now booming better than ever.

CW: How did you approach the 2022 season?
Clements: The 2022 season was approached at full force for the most part. It felt nice finally being able to do my job again at a full capacity.
Hiscock: Moving into 2022, vaccines were everywhere, and things were seeming back to normal. Plans were established and laid out for the upcoming year of events and all around the country, music festivals, nationwide tours and major events were happening again in full force. For a brief period in January, as omicron was making headlines, anxiety started to rise again about the future uncertainty of live events. But once it became known that the severity of the variant was not as dire as in the past, and apparent that live events were not going to slow down all around the country, things shifted back to "normalcy" once again. Moving forward, we still took the health and safety of our community very seriously by encouraging vaccines and mask-wearing but felt that things needed to continue onward.
Radford: Approaching 2022 was similar to our mindset in 2021: "hopefully optimistic." I wouldn't say we have "fear" of omicron or other variants. However, we do have solid protocols and procedures if, and when, we may need to use them again. Due to the pandemic, we have learned how to ramp up or scale back our operations from learned experience. This gives us not only the confidence to operate on all cylinders, but it gives us the backup plans and procedures that we didn't have prior to the pandemic. Our relationships with our employees, entertainers, patrons, donors, Pharaoh members and media/business partners all know of our sincere respect for their trust and collaboration. We all understand the difficulties entertainment venues have experienced due to COVID-related illness, and through sincere patience and hard work, we have been able to continue offering high-quality entertainment to our local community and visitors alike.
Vaughn: After being able to successfully produce hundreds of routed concerts and our two major festivals in the second half of 2021, we approached the 2022 season like any other non-COVID year—with the exception of possibly pulling back slightly on the quality of bands we were booking. With the consumer demand being so high in 2021, we could put just about any live band on a stage, and people would come out to support. We think that's cooled off a little now, so we're being more selective in our bookings.

Concert promoters say the return of large events like EDC Las Vegas boosted their confidence for a 2022 season. - COURTESY PHOTO
  • Courtesy Photo
  • Concert promoters say the return of large events like EDC Las Vegas boosted their confidence for a 2022 season.

CW: What were the indicators that made a 2022 season seem like a "go"?
Clements: When I began to have weeks with more than three shows—that's when it finally hit me that we were back at it.
Hiscock: As previously mentioned, the confidence in booking and producing events truly returned once we noticed national tours from world-renowned artists and the biggest festivals like EDC & Ultra all returning for good. When artists like Justin Bieber and The Weeknd are touring again, and 300,000-plus-person music festivals are happening, you can feel pretty confident that things have returned to normal.
Radford: The year 2022 has brought us lower contraction rates and higher vaccination rates in Summit County. Since we follow the strict advice from the CDC and our local health and safety providers in Summit County, we were able to greenlight all of the usual operation standards we experienced before the pandemic.
Vaughn: Once large-scale events in arenas, major festivals, etc., began successfully happening without masks mandates, we knew we were good to go

CW: Are there challenges to pricing that consumers should know about, like higher fuel costs, travel restrictions or bands looking to make up for two summers of lost touring?
Clements: I think that there are a lot of artists trying to make up for two years of no work, which is understandable. But in the end, it comes at the price of promoters taking on more risk, and consumers paying more for their tickets. The price of gas has been super unfortunate for smaller, growing bands, since they aren't making guarantees comparable to bigger, more established and mainstream acts. I couldn't imagine being an up-and-coming touring artist right now with these gas prices. On a side note, some bands from overseas still aren't even able to tour in the U.S. due to visa issues and travel restrictions in other countries.
Hiscock: The post-pandemic era and general inflation have changed the landscape of live events. Production costs for sound, lighting and other elements have increased, and artist fees have skyrocketed—partially due to increased fuel and flight costs. International acts are having a harder time getting visas approved to tour in the U.S., and domestic artists are touring more than ever, creating a shift in the "supply and demand" of concerts and events around the country. Insurance, transportation, hotels and staff costs have all risen throughout 2022, and it is generally more expensive than ever to throw large-scale events right now.
Radford: Currently, costs are similar to previous years. Any challenges we may face are not due to any of these issues listed above. Cost-based challenges for any theaters are likely related to the many months of closures we experienced, so I encourage everyone everywhere to support live events, concerts and venues, especially our nonprofit houses like the Egyptian Theatre in Park City. We rely so much on the support of our donors and local patrons.

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About The Author

Thomas Crone

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