The Memorial Park Youth Concert: Wasted Opportunity…

Category: Blog — @ 6:09 pm June 7, 2009

I hate to say “I told you so,” but…

My guestimate of the attendance at last night’s Gomez concert in Memorial Park: less than 1,000. It was hard to say since people were so widely scattered across the enormous park bowl. The number was probably closer to 600 or 800.

You can’t blame the weather. It was gorgeous despite weathermen warning of storms for the past few days. You can’t blame the “Taste of Omaha” thing going on downtown. The food orgy doesn’t really target “area youth” — and this was promoted as a “youth concert.” Actually, “promoted” is the wrong term. Part of the problem was that the city did such a terrible job promoting the concert. I saw one commercial for it on cable a few days prior, and nothing — no posters, no billboards — around town. I think there were a couple mentions in The Omaha World-Herald, but no one (certainly not “youth”) reads that anymore.

I heard the same thing over and over when I asked people if they were going to the concert Saturday afternoon: “What concert?” The next question out of their mouths: “Who’s Gomez?”

And that of course was the biggest problem of all. Why would anyone know who Gomez is? Because they had a song played on Grey’s Anatomy in 2006? Their music isn’t played on local radio. At least when Feist played here last year, people were familiar with her “1-2-3-4” song from the iPod commercials (though they may not have known who actually sang it).

So let’s do the math. According to this invoice filed by the city which you can view on the internet right here (thanks, Jeremy Buckley, for pointing this out), the performance and booking fees for Gomez totaled $27,750 (not including hotel and hospitality expenses), paid for by the city (i.e., by you). According to the same document, U.S. Cellular pitched in $50,000 I assume to cover staging and sound costs as well as for paying the 400 or so police on hand.

So let’s just round up to a total of $80,000. That means if 800 people were there, the concert costs around $100 per person in the audience. Seems a tad pricey.

Adding to the discouraging turnout was the utter lack of “youth” in the park. I guess it depends on how you define “youth.” I mostly saw people in their late 20s and early 30s, most of them pushing baby carriages. People in the 40s likely outnumbered people in their teens.

The only successful part of the concert was the performances. Brad Hoshaw and the Seven Deadlies sounded like an arena band from that mammoth stage. The sound quality was the best I’ve heard at a live outdoor show. Pristine. Too bad there were only 100 people there to see it. As you can see from this photo, I was able to lean against the stage barricade and take a picture unhampered. Even Brad cracked from stage that he’d seen most of the crowd a few weeks ago… at his CD release party.

I missed Mal Madrigal and Sarah Benck, and returned for Gomez. Again, terrific sound, and let’s face it, a terrific band whose music is as featureless and forgetful and middle-of-the-road safe as you could find anywhere. Unadventurous pabulum, but very well played.

Look, I think the idea of a free “youth concert” in the park is terrific and essential in a city like Omaha. But you absolutely have to have someone who knows something about music (and “youth”) help decide on the headliner. I’m not involved in the music business, but I have to believe that you can get some pretty amazing bands for $30,000 if you begin organizing the event now (or in a few months). I have no doubt that Mayor Fahey had no idea who Gomez was, nor should he know. Instead, he or his staff must have turned the decision over to the St. Louis booking agency hired for the gig, and they decided for him. “Hey, we’ve got this hot band called Gomez that was originally scheduled to come through The Waiting Room. They’d be perfect for your park concert.” A copy of Bring It On was mailed to someone in the Mayor’s office, where it was “monitored” to ensure there wasn’t anything offensive on it, and then the band was given the green light.

Did anyone bother to ask any area youth who they’d like to see perform in the park? The answer clearly was “no.” While I think The Plain White T’s is a horrendous band, I can at least see why teenagers might listen to their derivative drivel. No teen is listening to Gomez.

So the question becomes whether there should be a sixth “youth concert” in Memorial Park next year. If the city can’t get their shit together and start asking the right questions — or hire One Percent Productions to handle the gig — the answer is clearly no. It’s a huge waste of money. It’s also a huge wasted opportunity.

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