Outdoor Concert Fever

There are so many things I look forward to this time of year!

Warmer temps, brighter sunshine, longer days, oh, and greener grass. Those are all things we can see and feel.

And they can be found just about anywhere.

But this is the time of year we here in the Greater Mankato region celebrate something that can’t be found just anywhere, the sounds of summer. Sure, there is the joy that comes each spring with the sounds of neighborhoods once again coming to life. I enjoy that immensely. But it’s the other sounds of summer in southern Minnesota I’m talking about.

Yes, some may call the months of May through September the summer season. I call it the “let’s spend as much time as we can at the Vetter Stone Amphitheater” season.

Big sounds, big boost for our local economy.

Vetter Stone Amphitheater opened in Riverfront Park in 2010. If you haven’t been there, picture this: a beautifully crafted venue made from more than 1,500 tons of Minnesota Stone from the The Vetter Stone Company. It sits on the banks of the Minnesota River and is truly a rare gem with its tiered seating made of limestone slab. A sprawling grassy area at the back is the perfect location for food and drink vendors.

Adding to that picture perfect setting are musical lineups that just get more and more varied each year. Artists of all sorts are now gracing the stage, enough variety to cover whatever interests you musically. I love Vetter Stone Amphitheater so much that I’ll go see whoever is playing there even if I don’t know any of their music. I’m a junkie, I admit. In fact, most of the acts coming this summer would not typically interest me at all..yet I have tickets to every single one of them.

You see, often times it’s just about the experience, the people, the camaraderie of all of us being together. And we are lucky to have a nice stroll through City Center and Old Town on our way to the show where there are numerous options for food and drink. I don’t have figures, but I’m willing to bet businesses along Riverfront Drive see a bit of a boost during the summer concert season.

Vetter Stone has been host to many, many well-known musical artists such as Rick Springfield (you knew I would list him first), Willie Nelson, George Thorogood, and Pat Benatar. This summer Alice Cooper, The Funkadelics and Travis Tritt, among others, will take the stage. See what I mean? Variety! When a new performance is announced, it always makes me wonder how the acts are chosen?

As luck would have it, I know just who to ask; Eric Jones, marketing manager for the Verizon Wireless Center complex, of which Vetter Stone Amphitheater is a part.

One of the premiere events in Mankato each summer is RibFest. Acts for this year’s celebration in August were just announced, but when I caught up with Jones in his downtown Mankato office, he was already working on next year’s lineup.

“We plan out as far ahead as we can to secure some of these acts,” he explains. “Especially with RibFest. It’s a fixed weekend so there isn’t any flexibility. Plus we know who we have had play the event before so can plan around that. We know who plans to be on tour next summer so we are already in the works.”

For the other “stand alone” acts, Jones says they have a couple of promoter partners they work with. “We just look for different opportunities as artists are coming through the state or the Midwest. We want to make sure we get our name out there, throw our hat in the ring and get them. We do get a lot of competition from the Twin Cities.”

Indeed there are numerous venues both indoor and outdoor in the Minneapolis/St. Paul area. But as more and more artists discover the stage here, Vetter Stone is making a good name for itself.

“It’s a lot easier now than it was a few years ago when we were an unknown commodity and were just trying to get our name out there and just prove ourselves. Well, we’ve proven ourselves now. We’ve had some really successful shows, Willie Nelson, Prairie Home Companion (even though it ended up being moved inside due to weather), Old Crow Medicine Show. So now we are definitely in the conversation when artists are looking at where to play.”

Jones says once he sees who is interested, his team has several things to consider.

“We look at the act’s promote ability,” explains Jones. “Mankato is a smaller market than Twin Cities yet close enough that we have to learn how to best co-exist. So when we starting talking to an artist, we think about ‘is it something that we can market without having to rely too heavily on Twin Cities?’”

Jones says often people will ask him to book an artist in Mankato the night after they’ve been in the cities. That makes sense in theory but Jones says that hardly ever works.

“If someone is going to go see an artist in the Twin Cities, they are not going to pay to go see them the next night in Mankato,” he says. “And some of the acts can’t sell a couple of thousand tickets one night and a couple of thousand the next night, too. So we really are in a lot of competition with Minneapolis and St. Paul.”

Another consideration, of course, is the price tag associated with some of the acts.

“We take the target price the act is looking to make, estimate the expenses, and figure out the ticket price that we feel the market can bear (within the acts guidelines),” says Jones. “From there we determine how many tickets it would take to break even, and if we feel it is a good or bad risk. We have no certain amount of profit we need to make, only that we don’t go backwards. Plus, we make money off of concessions and food.”

Tickets, concessions…I am probably single handedly keeping the place open. Ticket price, $50. Drink, $4. The chance to spend an evening at Vetter Stone Amphitheater, outside listening to live music among hundreds of friends: priceless.

Lisa Cownie

Lisa Cownie

Editor of Connect Business Magazine

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