Before the music plays, plenty of work goes into the Eastside’s summer concerts
To consumers, outdoor-concert season on the Eastside means picnics, partying, and a few hours with a favorite performer and a few thousand other fans. But for those who stage these concerts, the season symbolizes big work and big dollars. Here, we go behind the scenes and take a closer look at the work that goes into three Eastside concert series.
Chateau Ste. Michelle Summer Concert Series
Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville has hosted summer concerts since 1984, and this season — which kicks off June 13 with a live broadcast of Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion — includes 25 shows. In 2014, a series-record 83,063 people rolled through the gates. Ste. Michelle’s outdoor amphitheater seats 4,300 people. The 2015 concert series also features performances by Sheryl Crow, Harry Connick Jr., and Smash Mouth.
Piper Scalise, communications and events manager for the winery, says the musicians are either invited to perform or approach the venue about booking a show date. “We have a lot of artists that like our venue and are interested in coming back and performing at the winery,” she says. “We always try to have a mix of new artists as well as those fan favorites who sell out each season.”
Once the calendar is finalized, Ste. Michelle announces its lineup in March or April through an email to its mailing list, a news release, postings on its website and social media, and limited regional advertising. “We are very fortunate that a majority of our shows sell out each season, and we have a loyal fan base that looks forward to the schedule and attends shows every summer,” Scalise says.
Between 50 and 60 people work each concert. The workers include the winery’s guest services and event management staff. Additional contracted employees are brought on to facilitate parking, security, and more. Onsite food vendors serve concertgoers, or patrons can bring picnic food from home. “Many people go all out on their picnic baskets, with beautiful spreads of antipasti and gourmet salads,” Scalise says. “We’ve even seen a picnic with lobster.”
Ste. Michelle doesn’t like to give out revenue figures from its concerts, but Scalise says proceeds from the annual concert series help fund Ste. Michelle’s charitable initiatives, including contributions to Seattle Children’s Hospital scholarships for high-achieving low-income students. Scalise says over 400 organizations have received more than $1 million in donations from Ste. Michelle.
Marymoor Park Concert Series
Redmond’s 640-acre Marymoor Park has hosted a summer concert series since 2003, and AEG Live took over talent booking and operations in 2013. This year’s concert series opens June 14 with composer A.R. Rahman.
“The diversity in the lineup is really incredible,” says Rob Thomas, AEG Live’s Pacific Northwest vice president. “To go from A.R. Rahman and his Bollywood stuff to Third Eye Blind, Slightly Stoopid, Peter Frampton, and Cheap Trick — it’s got a wide reach with all of that.”
Artist selection starts in the fall and solidifies in the first quarter of the year, according to Thomas. “That concept of something for everybody is ultimately our goal,” he says, “having diverse programming throughout the summer.” The lineup is announced three to four months before the start of the series through social media, email blasts, and TV and radio ads. Thomas says most attendees are local, but if it’s an artist that fans can’t see anywhere else, some will travel from afar.
Thomas says a core team of 30 to 35 people helps bring in the artists’ equipment and set up the show, but when you count other staff such as security, parking attendants, and bartenders, the number of people working a Marymoor concert nears 100.
“Most people working on the show get in at 9 a.m. and don’t leave until afterward,” Thomas says. “The guests don’t arrive until 6 o’clock or whatever, but everyone’s been there all day setting up to create an event space that’s welcoming and warm.”
Some revenue from ticket sales and concessions, plus all parking proceeds, supports King County Parks’ facilities and public lands.
“We are trying to raise about $5 million per year in business revenues to support our parks, and one of the ways we do that is through the concert series,” says Jessica Emerson, business development manager with the county. “Last year, the concert series brought in close to $600,000, so it’s a big revenue source for us. We also think it provides a great thing for the community.”
As part of Celebrate Woodinville, the city hosts a series of free Wednesday-evening concerts at Wilmot Gateway Park, culminating in an all-day Saturday festival in August. The series begins July 15 with vocalist Emily McIntosh. Last summer, each concert attracted 500 to 900 attendees, while the Saturday festival drew more than 5,000 people, according to Kimberly Ellertson, director of marketing for the Woodinville Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
“The mission of Celebrate Woodinville is to bring Woodinville residents together for family-oriented events and celebrate sense of community,” Ellertson says. Even so, surveys taken in the past two years show that about half the attendees were from outside the city. About 40 percent had children attend with them, so the concerts also include kid-friendly activities.
“The wine and beer garden lends itself to professionals who want to relax on a Wednesday evening and listen to good music,” Ellertson says. “There’s a retirement community across the street, so they had an area set up and a group from the retirement community came over. It’s a great mix of people, young and old.”
Several of the musicians — including Woodinville resident McIntosh — have local roots.
“Being a fairly new series, we’re trying to get a feel for what engages our fans,” Ellertson says. “Finding a band with some sort of Woodinville tie seems to provide a really good engagement to our community.” Several other musicians are familiar to locals through performances at various Woodinville wine-tasting rooms.
Celebrate Woodinville is a collaboration between the city of Woodinville, the Chamber of Commerce, Woodinville Wine Country, and North Shore YMCA. Ellertson says the series benefits from the help of hundreds of volunteers and paid staff, plus sponsors.
Because the concert series is free, it draws passersby. “They’ll happen upon the concerts, park their bikes, and enjoy a fun Wednesday evening that they weren’t expecting,” Ellertson says.
Bellevue Summer Lunch Concert
The Bellevue Downtown Association’s Live at Lunch concert series features music at various downtown locations on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. Last year’s series featured jazz, acoustic rock, country, indie folk, and more. The 2015 series begins July 8, and the lineup includes regional favorites such as Massy Ferguson, Brian Butler Blues Band, and The Swearengens.