Traverse City News and Events

Landing "Tears For Fears," Passing On Dolly, And The 2016 Interlochen Lineup

April 15, 2016

It’s almost as if Christopher Gruits’ baby was birthed today.

As Director of Interlochen Presents, Gruits books more than 600 events at Interlochen Center for the Arts each year. His most high-profile work is unveiled today with the announcement of the summer season’s popular music lineup.

Gruits says he’s “really thrilled” about the lineup, which includes the likes of Steve Miller, Huey Lewis & The News, Tears For Fears and more (complete lineup at bottom).

The Ticker has been following Gruits since October while he planned the season, attended entertainment industry events to identify potential acts, sent offers to musicians, and negotiated the final deals. Here’s what we heard along the way.

OCTOBER 9, 2015
So how are you spending your time now, more than a half year before the summer season?
Gruits: My focus now is on the core classical, jazz, and theatre now through the end of the year. I’m lining up conductors for the youth orchestra, and I’m also really excited that the theme of our festival this summer is “Young Americans.” We’re trying to showcase younger artists across many disciplines, including theatre, dance, jazz…you know, we’re really an incubator of young artists, so we’re in a unique position to do something like that. 

Then the pop/rock/country shows really take shape from January to March. I’m going to Nashville actually tomorrow for an entertainment buyers’ conference and then to New York in January. And I’ll meet with a lot of those agents who by January will have a good idea of routing [where and when acts will tour].

Ticker: Are there certain things you learned from or want to change from last season?
Well for one, the fourth and fifth weeks of the summer we had stretched our team to their limit. I think one night we had a film event, a dance in Corson, and a concert in Kresge. I had over 100 people working here, and we did it, but it was a little crazy. So if we can we might try to space out events a bit. The other thing is we saw a much younger audience at the September 1 OAR show. And how can we diversity the programming a bit to attract a younger audience here. But there are just much smaller numbers of those people in the summer here, so it’s hard to pull off financially.

DECEMBER 11, 2015
Ticker: Happy Holidays! What’s the latest?
Summer is coming along. I’m pinning down the dance and theatre before the holidays. And in terms of rock, pop, and country, I have a lot of offers going out. I went to Nashville and got some face time with some agents, but it’s still kind of early. 

Ticker: Can you share some artists you’re looking at or targeting?
We’re looking at some indie bands that would attract a slightly younger audience. There’s also a range of artists we look at every year. Dolly Parton…she’s a really nice fit for us. The last time she was here in the 90s she sold out to shows back-to-back. But the issue there is she doesn’t need to tour, so we’ll see.

Ticker: Other artists that would be ‘home runs’ for you?
James Taylor, maybe. He hasn’t been here in a really long time. Or the Zach Brown Band. But we’re just not big enough to land most artists like that who can play large arenas. Also someone like Sarah Jarosz. She opened for Nickel Creek here in 2014 and then she came back this year with Prairie [Home Companion], and we got great feedback. So we’re keen to have her back. I had a nice conversation with her agent in Nashville.

Ticker: What percent done is the summer lineup at this point?
For the big Kresge shows? Maybe 25 percent done. It’s crunch time. Over the next month we’ll finalize everything. We have tons and tons of offers out. Maybe 60, including country, big bands, comedy, rock. We want to announce to the public on April 15, so we’re trying to have everything done by the beginning of March, in time to print the brochure.

Ticker: And who are a few you’re talking to?
Trying to Get Steve Miller in June. We’ve offered Huey Lewis. He came in 2003 and there’s been a lot of demand for him over the years.

Ticker: And still trying for Dolly Parton?
We have an offer out and we’re holding a date. If she says she can’t commit for a few more weeks, I’ll try to wait. But for example, I was holding dates for Bob Dylan for a long time and then at the end they said they just couldn't make it work. So it’s frustrating but that happens.

Ticker: Is this the most stressful time of your year?
Yes, in the next three weeks I’ll be on the phone much of every day. We have a couple dates with maybe five holds, and it will be first come, first served. We’re also working around a very complex and packed camp calendar across twelve venues, so it’s a challenge every year.

Ticker: And several months back you mentioned an act like Zach Brown. I assume acts like those just go to larger venues?
Right. People say ‘why don’t you ever get those huge names,’ but what they don’t understand is you don’t go into a store and pick them off a shelf. It’s a complex combination of price, number of seats, and routing. And ultimately the artist decides where to go. Interlochen is really lucky that we have such an incredible reputation, but we are also really out of the way. We’re also competing against for-profit promoters and casinos. We’re doing this for student scholarships, but if you’re at a casino you can put more resources and risk behind it and make more money on gambling or alcohol.

MARCH 2016
Ticker: Well?
I’m really thrilled. It finally came together. The last week was crazy trying to confirm things. But the festival is pretty much done.

Ticker: So what are a few highlights of the lineup?
We have some big pop Interlochen debuts, we have Greg Allman and Peter Frampton, who hasn’t been out in a long time. We have Jay Leno in Kresge for his debut. Lindsey Stirling, an absolute violin sensation. Jackson Browne is coming back with a full band. Pat Benatar with Melissa Etheridge….so many more. And then I try to communicate to people that there’s so much more here than the 12-15 big shows. There are hundreds of other events going on of very high caliber. We’re expanding our Shakespeare festival, we have Jake Shimabukuro , who is a ukulele sensation, we have a young American playwright who won a Pulitzer, a really hip string quartet…

Ticker: And Dolly?
We kept waiting and they kept stalling, so we decided it wasn’t worth trying to do it at the last minute. We had so many other options. We would have loved to have had her, but we finally gave them a deadline and they didn’t respond in time.

Ticker: Which show turned out to be really complex to pull together?
I’d say Tears for Fears. We were really pushing them to confirm. We had maybe four holds on that date. We finally said we’d give them 24 hours or they would lose it, and ultimately we shuffled Jay Leno around, which is really tricky because he only does a few shows. But it worked. And this summer is really going to be great. I think we have shows to appeal to so many different audiences.

Tickets for all events go on sale April 29.

Thursday, June 23
Steve Miller Band

Tuesday, June 28
Jackson Browne

Thursday, June 30
Rich Hill, film screening

July 1 & 2
Romeo & Juliet

Sunday, July 3
World Youth Symphony Orchestra

Monday, July 4
The Glenn Miller Orchestra

Tuesday, July 5
The Capitol Steps

July 5, 6 & 7
Circle Mirror Transformation

Thursday, July 7
Danez Smith, poet

Friday, July 8
Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion

July 8 & 9
Romeo & Juliet

Saturday, July 9
An Evening with Sarah Jarosz

Sunday, July 10
World Youth Symphony Orchestra

LUMA - Art in Darkness

Monday, July 11
The King’s Singers

Wednesday, July 13
Tears for Fears

Thursday, July 14
Béla Fleck & Chris Thile

Friday, July 15
Brandi Carlile and Old Crow Medicine Show

Sunday, July 17
World Youth Symphony Orchestra

Monday, July 18

Tuesday, July 19

SYBARITE5 “Look Back, Move Forward”

Saturday, July 23
Interlochen “Collage”

World Youth Symphony Orchestra

Monday, July 25
Kris Bowers

Tuesday, July 26
An Evening with Lyle Lovett and his Large Band

Conrad Tao, piano

Wednesday, July 27
Rick Springfield “Stripped Down”

Thursday, July 28
Alexandra Kleeman

Friday, July 29
Jay Leno

Saturday, July 30
Lindsey Stirling

World Youth Symphony Orchestra
Conrad Tao, piano

An Evening with Jake Shimabukuro

Aug. 4, 5, 6 & 7
Catch Me if You Can, The Musical

Sunday, Aug. 7
World Youth Symphony Orchestra and Les Préludes

Tuesday, Aug. 9
Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo and Melissa Etheridge

Friday, Aug. 12
Martina McBride Live in Concert

Aug. 15, 17 & 20
Ensō String Quartet

Sunday, Aug. 28
Buddy Guy and Jonny Lang


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