What does it take to get musical artists such as Josh Groban, ZZ Top, Harry Connick Jr. and Dwight Yoakam to agree to come play at your venue?
Try: months of planning, an auditorium that can seat almost 4,000, a healthy budget, and – most importantly – a reputation as one of the region's premier destinations for cultural events.
This summer, Interlochen Center for the Arts will present its 49th annual Summer Arts Festival, a three-month-long concert series including dance, rock, pop, classical, comedy, theater and family acts. Interlochen unveils its 2013 lineup this morning, which includes the aforementioned acts as well as the likes of Garrison Keillor, Brian Wilson, The Avett Brothers, Melissa Etheridge, Brandi Carlile, Trace Adkins, Steve Miller Band and Kris Kristofferson (see the complete lineup below).
Rory Baker, Interim Director of Interlochen Presents, is part of a staff talent-buying team that begins booking artists a year or more ahead in advance. The team considers a number of factors when designing the summer roster: artist touring routes, album sales, popularity, cultural impact, ticket prices and perceived local interest.
“Our goal is to keep an open mind to new talent and try to stay current, while also looking at artists who will (sell) well,” Baker tells The Ticker.
Because of Interlochen's primary role as a school, the venue must be cautious to book shows that are appropriate for all ages and that don't encourage a “drug culture,” according to Baker (this often rules out hip-hop, rap, heavy metal, techno and hard rock). Artists with sky-high talent fees – think Madonna or The Rolling Stones – are similarly eliminated, because the resulting ticket prices would be “too high for the market” to bear.
The main considerations for Baker and his team, however, are striking a balance of popular artists who've previously appeared at the series with brand-new acts, and making sure to address the needs of different demographics. A long-running joke, for example, that Interlochen has one “college crowd” show per summer (The Avett Brothers this year; Guster and The Decemberists in recent years) does have some roots in reality: Younger consumers will often buy tickets for one concert, but not two or three, Baker says.
“Plus, we need to make sure we're leaving room for all the other genres,” he adds. The surprise success of last summer's concert with Christian pop artist Michael W. Smith is one result of Interlochen's willingness to experiment; similar efforts with country, comedy and family shows in recent years have significantly expanded the series' customer base beyond its original classical focus.
In designing the Festival, the challenges go beyond booking talent: Kresge Auditorium's open-sided amphitheater design presents significant acoustic difficulties, as well as exposure to the weather. (“When we had Willy Nelson here in early June, people were freezing,” Baker remembers, which is the reason Interlochen's series now usually goes from late June to late August).
And you never know when, say, a Chinese acrobat team will get stuck on the road and arrive at the venue two hours late. “It's all part of the business,” Baker says. “It can be unpredictable.”
Still, as Interlochen's 600+ performances a year and 100,000 visitors a summer will attest, things tend to run smoothly more often than not. And the venue will get an added injection of industry prestige this summer when newly announced Director of Interlochen Presents Christopher Gruits joins the staff – coming to Interlochen directly from Carnegie Hall.
“We're excited for what Chris will bring (to the series),” says Baker. “We've got a great lineup this year...I think we're all looking forward to seeing where we'll go next year.”
Tickets for the 2013 Summer Arts Festival go on sale at 9 a.m. on Friday, April 19 via tickets.interlochen.org or by phone at 231.276.7800 or 800.681.5920.
2013 Summer Arts Festival Lineup
Brandi Carlile wsg the Lone Bellow – June 25
Shemekia Copeland – June 26
“Hamlet” Interlochen Shakespeare Festival – June 27-29; July 3, 5, 6
Kevin Johnson – June 29
Triple Trombone Concerto, World Youth Symphony Orchestra – June 30
The Avett Brothers – July 1
Capitol Steps – July 5
Violinist Jennifer Koh, World Youth Symphony Orchestra – July 7
Interlochen “Collage” – July 9
Luna Negra Dance Theater – July 10
Dwight Yoakam wsg The Railers – July 11
Kevin Cole with Sylvia McNair – July 12
Turtle Island Quartet – July 13
Harry Connick Jr. – July 16
Steve Miller Band – July 17
Melissa Etheridge – July 18
Brian Wilson with Al Jardine, David Marks and Wilson Phillips – July 23
Trace Adkins – July 26
“Oklahoma!” High School Musical Theatre Co. – August 1-4
Garrison Keillor's “A Prairie Home Companion – Radio Romance” Tour – August 6
ZZ Top – August 8
Kris Kristofferson – August 9
Josh Groban with the Traverse Symphony Orchestra – August 12
Enso String Quartet – August 12, 14 & 17